WHY? Fire bugs may deliberately light fires as part of revenge or retribution, in response to a perceived grievance, as an emotional expression, or a cry for help, forensic criminologist Dr Claire Ferguson said.
WHY? Fire bugs may deliberately light fires as part of revenge or retribution, in response to a perceived grievance, as an emotional expression, or a cry for help, forensic criminologist Dr Claire Ferguson said. Bill North

Crime expert gets inside the mind of a fire bug

AS BUSHFIRES rage throughout the state, a shocking number of blazes are believed to have been deliberately lit.

A Kingaroy man was charged last week for lighting nine fires in town, and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services say at least a dozen fires were lit on purpose at the weekend.

As this worrying trend continues, it's worth asking, with so much potential damage and danger, why do people light fires deliberately?

Forensic criminologist Dr Claire Ferguson said deliberate "fire setters", or fire bugs, lit fires for many reasons, but many came from a need for recognition.

"The fire is expressing an emotion for them that they can't otherwise express," she said.

The Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer said the reasons people deliberately lit fires included boredom, as a way to create a thrill, to reduce stress, as a coping mechanism or they were actually interested in the fire itself.

"Most interestingly, coming out of the research it's not usually somebody getting some sort of sexual pleasure out of the fire or out of the risk," she said.

Some people may deliberately light fires as part of revenge or retribution, in response to a perceived grievance, as an emotional expression, or a cry for help.

"They might enjoy the recognition they get for doing it, all of the stuff that goes along with lighting the fire, and the attention that it receives," Dr Ferguson said.

Less commonly, fires may also be lit to conceal a crime or profit, such as a stolen car, and they blaze may get out of control and create a bushfire in dry conditions.

Fire bugs are those who light the fires with malicious intent - to be destructive - rather than to back burn some bush.

During bushfire season, the conditions are already primed for fires to take off due to dry vegetation and strong winds.

Dr Ferguson said fires lit within these conditions were potentially quite opportunistic, as the fire bugs knew how easy it was for fires to spread quickly.

"They may also think there's potentially less of a chance of being caught, since there's already back burning," she said.

"It's quite deliberate and fairly calculated."

She said age was a factor in the level of responsibility and irresponsibility, as a younger person may not perceive the risk involved with the current weather conditions.

A young person who actively tries to light a fire also might not understand or consider the extent of the damage a fire can have, she said.

"It's a bad time of year, and there's not a lot of forward planning for a lot of fire setters," Dr Ferguson said.

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