Fires may be linked to social networking

SIMON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 14/11/2012

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Police are investigating whether there's a social networking link between more than 20 suspicious fires at school and community facilities across Auckland recently. 

A 16-year-old boy was apprehended over a skip-bin fire beside the Howick Little Theatre last Thursday, but investigations into a spate of other arsons is ongoing.

More than 24 fires have been deliberately lit from Eastern Beach through to Dannemora over the past four months and the offending has accelerated, fire risk management officer Phil Faidley said.

"The community needs to now take a stand. We need to stop this behaviour as there is a real chance that things could escalate and we could be looking at more serious property damage, or, heaven forbid, somebody gets hurt."

Acting inspector Darrell Harpur, of Counties Manukau, said there were two distinct patterns: fires at schools and in commercial-sized cardboard recycling bins made of wire mesh.

"We are looking at whether there is some sort of social networking thing happening, a bit like planking," he said. "But we've got an open mind."

Schools where rubbish bins were placed against classrooms and set alight include: Howick College, Wakaaranga School, Macleans College, Star of the Sea School and Point View School.

There have also been at least five incidents of wire mesh cardboard reclaim containers being set alight, and a number of other fires that may be related to Guy Fawkes.

Harpur said lighting fires was not a game and arsonists would be prosecuted.
 
"We are following good lines of inquiry and I'm confident we will resolve it."

Faidley said fires have also been lit at Murvale Reserve, Howick Pakuranga Cricket Club and the Highland Park Community House.

Howick Pakuranga Principals' Association president Deidre Alderson said schools were taking the fires "incredibly seriously".

A principals' meeting was held with the fire service and police to talk about safety last Wednesday.

"We are asking our communities to keep a watchful eye on our schools and to ring 111 if they see anything suspicious, and not to hesitate."

Alderson said somebody must know who the arsonists are.

"They've got to have either boasted to someone or have the smell of smoke on their clothes."

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