Police have issued a stern warning to potential looters targeting bushfire victims after a teenager was allegedly caught stealing from an evacuated home in the New South Wales Riverina region.
It comes as another man has been charged with allegedly lighting fires in Jindabyne.
Authorities yesterday ordered the 1300 residents of Batlow to leave after declaring the Snowy Valley township “not defendable” against the 130,000 hectare Dunns Road fire predicted to hit today.
Police will allege a 19-year-old man broke into a rural property on Old Tumbarumba Road at about 3.30pm yesterday after the owners had evacuated.
The man allegedly searched through the house before stealing a Ford Falcon sedan.
He was arrested after officers from Riverina Police District spotted the vehicle driving erratically nearby.
Police initiated a pursuit, but it was terminated shortly after due to safety concerns.
Soon after, officers located the sedan after it crashed into a tree.
The driver was taken to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital in a stable condition, where he remains under police guard.
A backpack containing several items believed to be stolen, including jewellery, documentation, and ammunition was found inside the car.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys, said officers from the Public Order and Riot Squad, Police Transport and Highway Patrol commands had been deployed to help secure properties in bushfire affected areas.
“Any reports of these criminal acts will be thoroughly investigated,” Deputy Commissioner Worboys said.
“This sort of behaviour will not be tolerated by police or the wider community, and we will take immediate action to bring these people before the courts.
“I also ask members of the community to be vigilant. If you see a crime being committed, call triple-0 immediately.”
Reports of people preying on those displaced by the bushfire crisis and scoping out empty properties have been circulating on social media for weeks.
“Scumbag looters in the Blue Mountains, waiting for people to evacuate or drive down to Sydney for Xmas,” Sydney journalist Libby-Jane Charleston tweeted on Christmas Eve.
”We had people come to our door, pretending to look for somebody. Then a van backing into the driveway, moments after we’d left, to stake out the place (security cameras). Awful.”
There are also reports of increasing lawlessness on the NSW south coast, where one of the biggest evacuations in the country’s history has been playing out since authorities declared a 14,000km area between Nowra and the Victorian border a “tourist leave zone” on Thursday.
The mass exodus had left thousands stranded on the A1 Princes Highway, forced to sleep in their cars bumper to bumper in a traffic jam stretching several kilometres.
Services stations in the area have run out of fuel and supermarket shelves have been emptied in the rush to stock up on food.
Many businesses have been forced to accept cash only after power outages shut down ATMs and eftpos services.
As a result, authorities are advising evacuees to carry enough food and water, clothes and money to last three days.
Last night south coast shopkeeper Sue Mazzuoli toldChannel 9 locals were facing “bedlam” as hordes of tourists raced to leave the area — taking vital supplies with them.
Some were so desperate they had been reduced to stealing from a Sussex Inlet supermarket, she said.
“They were stealing from the supermarket because they had to feed the family and they had no money,” Ms Mazzuoli told A Current Affair.
“People were just panicking, especially the kids, the kids were just really worried.”
Ms Mazzuoli claimed she had told visitors to get out of town because they’re using up resources the locals will need.
“You can’t access petrol, gas ran out, chaos at the supermarket,” she said.
“All the ATMs are down, and the young people these days travel with no money, so they were even more panicked.”
In Jindabyne in southern NSW, Police have charged a man for allegedly lighting for fires on his property without a permit.
Emergency services were called to Kalkite Road, Kalkite, about 8.40pm yesterday following reports of several fires on a rural property. The fires were extinguished just before 9.15pm, with no injuries reported.
Around 12 noon today, the property’s occupant, an 84-year-old man, was served with a Court Attendance Notice for Wednesday 19 February at Cooma Local Court.
There is currently a State of Emergency declared in NSW due to the bushfire crisis in the southeast of the state.
The fire risk in the Monaro Alpine region is rated as very high, with a total fire ban in force. The incident is not liked to a fore deliberately lit in bushland this morning elsewhere in Jindabyne.