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Young firebugs to be educated over dangers

Date

Christopher Knaus

A fire crew works to contain fires near Bungendore on Wednesday ... The restorative justice process in the ACT allows those affected by fires to tell arsonists how they have been hurt.

A fire crew works to contain fires near Bungendore on Wednesday ... The restorative justice process in the ACT allows those affected by fires to tell arsonists how they have been hurt. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The two teenagers caught lighting fires in Canberra's north during the horror conditions of Tuesday could find themselves meeting firefighters as part of their punishment.

The boys, aged 13 and 14, were caught lighting a grass fire along Baldwin Drive in Lawson about 1.30pm, as the ACT was facing the most dangerous fire conditions in years.

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The pair have not yet been charged, with police instead opting to send them to a restorative justice process and the Juvenile Fire Awareness and Intervention Program.

The program will educate the boys about the dangers and consequences of lighting fires, and help their families deal with their firebug behaviour.

That is a markedly different strategy to the one taken in New South Wales, where three teenagers were charged and will be hauled before court later this month after allegedly lighting a fire in Sydney's west. Those three boys were released on bail almost immediately, a decision questioned by NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell.

''I still think that keeping them in overnight, for two nights, might have helped sink the message in,'' Mr O'Farrell said.

The ACT's restorative justice approach allows those affected by fires to tell arsonists about how they have been hurt, and gives offenders an opportunity to accept responsibility and repair the harm done. It could possibly result in their having to talk about their actions with the firefighters forced to put the grass fire out.

But if they fail to participate or show up in the restorative justice program, the boys could be charged and face the ACT Children's Court.

Mr O'Farrell expressed anger that the teenagers caught in Sydney were released on bail immediately.

He said firebugs should help to clean up the damage, and threw his support behind a suggestion by Yass Shire mayor Rowena Abbey that arsonists help put down animals that have been injured in their fires.

''We now in this state have graffiti offenders out there removing their vandalism,'' Mr O'Farrell said. ''The idea of ensuring arsonists have to go out there and confront what fires can do to properties, to animals and, regrettably, to humans is not a bad thing.'' with AAP

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