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Cross-border call to arms

COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Tony Kelly (left) helping neighbour Stuart Bell clean up fencing after the latest fire in the Cullendore area, New South Wales.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Tony Kelly (left) helping neighbour Stuart Bell clean up fencing after the latest fire in the Cullendore area, New South Wales. Contributed

A SPATE of fires and rural property thefts has one northern New South Wales resident calling for a cross-border Neighbourhood Watch to be established.

Stuart Bell runs cattle and owns a camping business on the Cullendore Creek Rd, about 5km from the Queensland border.

Mr Bell said coming into bushfire season, he was deeply concerned about the number of non-permitted or arsonist fires being lit in the area.

"In the past couple of weeks we have had about six unexplained fires in the Cullendore Road area, including one massive one in the Maryland National Park that burnt about 4000 acres,” he said.

"We've seen a huge number of fires in the last four to five years and I'm sure some people would have left the district because of the last big bushfire we had, which is sad.

"It is affecting both sides of the border. We're in a position now where something needs to be done because someone is going to get hurt or lose property.”

Mr Bell said he would like to hold a meeting with Queensland and New South Wales rural fire services, police and landholders to help residents band together to protect the border community.

"We hear from the Stock Squad and police, and Rural Fire Service investigators that people need to notify authorities straight away if something looks suspicious or they see fires, but people in the bush can be reluctant to do that,” he said.

"I think most people are doing the right thing, but we need everyone on board to get to the bottom of this.”

"We need to have certainty and continuity so people are confident they can call 000 and give people an opportunity to talk about what people are worried about and have people looking out for the community.”

Crime manager for the New England local area command Ann Joy said the NSW police already communicated and worked frequently with Queensland officers on investigations.

Detective Inspector Joy welcomed the proposed neighbourhood watch concept, saying it could bolster community engagement in the border district.

"The timeliness of reporting in investigations can be the difference between establishing a result in terms of prosecution or otherwise,” Det Insp Joy said.

"A Neighbourhood Watch is one mechanism that can be facilitated and is beneficial, in particular to rural community, as it boosts our engagement with these communities.”

Community safety officer for the NSW Rural Fire Service Scott Keelan said the organisation would support community groups to bolster fire safety.

"We have regular cross-border meetings and NSW crews regularly attend fires in Queensland and vice-versa,” Mr Keelan said.

"Fires don't follow lines on the map so it's important we're working together for the same outcome of community protection.

"One of our key responsibilities is ensuring people understand fire risk and are prepared - we would be happy to be involved in that way.”

"It's always a concern if fires are lit without permits or notification; there is a formal process in both states that requires you to notify neighbours and authorities when you are lighting up all year round, as well as obtaining a permit during bushfire season.”

Topics:  community crime rural fire service



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