Black Saturday ... a bushfire rages out of control from Bunyip State Park in Victoria. Photo: Jason South
POLICE, fearing a possible NSW scenario of Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires, have launched a crackdown on arsonists.
More than 3000 bush and grass fires have been recorded across the state so far this spring, with 37 burning on Thursday - including a significant blaze through 40 hectares of grassland near Lake Macquarie and which was still burning come night.
In Merrylands, a grass fire fanned by hot north-westerly winds ran dangerously close to houses.
NSW fire activity
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Click on the pins for details of fires in your area. All information from the Rural Fire Service of NSW.
Residents with garden hoses, their faces cloaked in handkerchiefs, sprayed their fences while they waited for firefighters. No one was injured and firefighters quickly contained the blaze.
Police and fire authorities are investigating the possibility that an arsonist lit the Merrylands fire, a spokesperson for Fire and Rescue NSW said.
With temperatures rising above 30 degrees this week, coupled with strong westerly winds, NSW Police announced it was restarting Strike Force Tronto to target would-be firebugs.
''I'd like the public to understand that the people who light fires put everybody at risk,'' Detective Acting Superintendent Ian McNab said in Sydney.
''There's a huge risk in even just a small grass fire. A small grass fire can turn into something catastrophic, as we saw in Victoria back in 2009,'' when the Black Saturday fires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes.
The Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner, Rob Rogers, said about 350 bushfires were investigated every year in NSW and about 100 were arson.
Many fires this spring have already been identified as the work of arsonists, including several around St Marys on Wednesday night. Detective Superintendent McNab said arrests in relation to the St Marys fires were expected in coming days.