A teenager was charged with lighting two fast and furious bushfires along Ranford Rd in Champion Lakes on Wednesday afternoon last week.
The first fire was lit in the Palomino Reserve opposite Sydney Tools around 3pm, while the second was started shortly after in the Cam Clay Reserve bounded by Ranford Rd, Lake Rd, Henderson Dr and Riverside Ln.
The fires decimated five hectares of bushland, threatened neighbouring properties, and caused afternoon chaos with Ranford Road locked down for three hours, and nearby homes and businesses evacuated.
The Chicken Treat store opposite the second fire suffered roughly $10,000-worth of damage to its roof and air conditioning system.
The store was closed for repairs the next day, but has now reopened.
Decades of concerted effort by the Armadale Gosnells Landcare Group and community members to rehabilitate bushland along the Wungong River went up in smoke.
Local senior landcare coordinator Shane Hunter said he felt “sad and frustrated” by the wanton destruction of the remnant bushland.
“We have been working along the Wungong River for about 25 years, it’s devastating to see how much damage a relatively small fire can cause,” he said.
“Thousands of volunteer hours have been invested in this area to restore its ecological function and create better habitat for wildlife. Hundreds of local school students and other volunteers have helped us at these sites.
“We continue to ask why someone does this type of destructive behaviour? It’s obviously a big question that cuts to the core of how our society values the natural environment.”
The trio of locals who apprehended the teen charged with the blazes has also been left wondering about the motives behind the attack.
Best friends Megan Rowe and Nikie Desrosiers were alerted to the ensuing chaos on the front lawn of Megan’s Riverside Lane property by Pebbles the dog.
“It was just hectic,” Megan said.
“A member of the public, known as Reece, saw the first fire and noticed the boy running across the paddock. He confronted him out the front of my house. He’s the real hero in all of this.
“The boy denied lighting the fires but we pointed out to him that he still had the box of matches in his hand.
“We kept him contained until the police arrived. We never put our hands on him, but he knew we weren’t going to let him get away. Nikie and I just went full Mum-mode, getting stuck into him about how he could have hurt himself or someone else,” Megan said.
Police arrested the 15-year-old Seville Grove boy and charged him with two counts of ‘Wilfully Light or Cause to be Lit a Fire Likely to Injure or Damage’. Police also initially arrested a teen girl, but she was later released without charges.
He is due to make a first appearance in Armadale Children’s Court on Friday, January 19.
Megan said it was only after the police arrived and arrested the boy that she realised how close the fires were coming to her house.
“It was roaring. We could feel the heat standing in our driveway. It was just across the paddock from our house and it was burning out of control.
“If the wind had changed it would have come straight across the paddock to us. We realised we could be in danger when a waterbomber dumped right in front of us – they were preparing for that possibility.”
Megan said she’s grateful for the quick response by firefighters.
A spokesperson for DFES has said the first crew arrived on the scene at 3.15pm, mere minutes after they received multiple calls for help from concerned members of the public.
There were 80 people on site and more than 20 firefighting appliances deployed at the height of the incident.
Career firefighters from Armadale, Maddington and Belmont, and volunteer brigades from Roleystone, Serpentine, Kalamunda, Gosnells, Bedfordale, Roleystone-Karragullen, Pickering Brook, Kiara, and Hope Valley worked to contain and control the two blazes by 6.30pm. Ranford Rd was reopened by 6.40pm.
Several crews stayed overnight, extinguishing hotspots, and then kept patrol throughout the following day.
“A really big thankyou to the fire brigades and the bombers. They all handled it so amazingly,” Megan said.
“As much as it is devastating for the wildlife and the reserve, no one lost their lives, no one lost homes or businesses. So, I’m thankful for that.
“Because it could have been so different – there’s nothing but tragedy that comes from fire.
“It’s a sickening crime and it needs to be punished. I’m so satisfied knowing we caught the offender. He’s going to face his day in court.
“If he comes back with a slap on his wrist there’s something really wrong with the system.”
Last week’s fires marked the third fire alert broadcast to Champion Lakes residents in just over a one-week period.
Mayor Ruth Butterfield has called the second major arson incident in the City of Armadale this fire season “the very worst kind of vandalism; causing destruction and terror”.
The police investigation continues and detectives urge anyone with any information relating to suspicious or deliberately lit fires, to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online at www.crimestopperswa.com.au
Rewards of up to $25,000 are available for information that leads to the identification and conviction of an arsonist.
Meanwhile, the Armadale and Gosnells Landcare Group remain steadfast in their determination to preserve what they can in the area.
“We will continue doing what we do, educating our community about the immense value of our natural world, replant native seedlings to restore ecosystems and advocate for the protection and conservation of what little bushland, wetland and natural ecosystems we have left,” senior landcare coordinator Shane Hunter said.