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Coronial investigation underway into suspicious fires

CLOSE to 10 suspicious structural fires started in South Grafton in the past six months are under investigation, as police continue to throw resources at the problem.

Since August last year, four houses and buildings on Melaleuca Wy, Spring St and Toona Wy have been destroyed, while houses on Spring St, Peppermint Pl, McFarlane St and Maxwell Ave suffered extensive damages.

One building on Spring St was damaged in a suspicious fire a week before it was burnt to the ground on November 7.

Coffs/Clarence crime manager Detective Inspector Darren Jameson said at least five of the fires under investigation were Department of Housing residences.

"These fires are subject to a coronial report, with them all being investigated by Grafton detectives," he said.

"We have committed a significant amount of resources to the issue, with police actively patrolling and targeting the South Grafton area."

Det Insp Jameson said as a result of one investigation, a 13-year-old South Grafton boy was currently before the children's court system charged with arson-related offences including entering a building with the intent to commit an indictable offence, possessing an article with intent to destroy or damage and aggravated break and enter with intent in company.

It is the first recent result in what is "not an easy" type of crime to investigate, according to NSW property crime squad detective inspector Ian McNab, who noted the fact that tangible evidence was often burnt brought additional challenges.

But finding the cause of deliberately lit fires is just a matter of investigation, Inspector McNab says.

A typical investigation starts with forensic services, who work closely with the Rural Fire Service and NSW Fire and Rescue to determine a cause. Dogs trained to sniff out accelerants are also used at times.

"The longer the fire goes, the less physical evidence you have to work with, but experts can normally identify the cause and start of a fire," Insp McNab said.

"From there, it's pretty much traditional policing - interviewing people, canvassing areas, identifying suspects and working from there."

Insp McNab said there were a myriad reasons why people started fires, from revenge attacks to squatters lighting fires inside for warmth.

"There's certainly many reasons people may light fires; it could be juveniles just causing damage, while others in public housing might want a better home," he said.

"We always look at motive because that can give an idea of the suspect ... it just depends on the circumstances and there are quite a number of factors."

Insp McNab said it was also not an uncommon occurrence throughout NSW where people set a house alight after being evicted. The property crime squad is not usually brought into these matters unless it results in injury or death.

Which is something Insp Jameson wants to avoid.

"It is now incumbent on the community to join us in trying to make South Grafton a safer place by reporting crime before or when it occurs," he said.

"Their help could not only save property but also a life."

Phone Grafton police on 6642 0222 or CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.

Topics:  grafton police, house fire

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