String of fires 'not linked'

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 16:41 24/07/2013
Aldershot Street

UNDER FIRE: Police and Fire Service staff investigate an arson at 22 Aldershot Street in Aranui, one of a string of suspicious fires in Christchurch recently.

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A spate of arsons in Christchurch are not linked and police investigations show they are mostly the work of opportunists.

Residents were urged to be vigilant and should report any sign of suspicious activity around vacant homes, Detective Inspector Greg Murton said this afternoon.

Overall, levels of reported arson across the city were no higher than normal, he said.

"However, vacant homes are always a potential target for arsonists, so we are alert to the risks around red-zone properties," he said.

The Fire Service was today called to a suspicious fire in an abandoned home in Christchurch's eastern suburbs, the eighth suspected arson in less than a fortnight.

A man was yesterday charged with last week's arson of a recently vacated Birchfield Ave, Dallington, house.

Aaron James Swan, 28, who is listed as having no fixed abode, entered no pleas when he appeared in the Christchurch District Court.

In the past three months there have been about 60 suspicious fires in Christchurch. Only a small proportion of those involved homes and less than a third were in residential red-zone areas.

"Overall, the rate of suspicious fires at present is no higher than historical averages," Murton said.

The incidents did not follow a pattern.

"Some fires are set inside the vacant house, others are set outside. In some cases, offenders have used vegetation or dried leaves, while others make use of rubbish left lying around," Murton said.

"The majority of incidents appear to be opportunist fires. We're confident we are not dealing with a firebug or serial arsonist."

Police were working closely with the Canterbury Easfrthquake Authority and the Fire Service to identify risk areas and take preventive measures.

"We are stepping up our preventive work as the number of vacant houses increases, including increasing our patrols through areas where homes have been vacated," Murton said.

"These will also include foot patrols and will particularly focus on the overnight period when the majority of these incidents occur.

 "We're also working with groups such as Community Watch who can help be the eyes and ears in local neighbourhoods.

"But we are also urging residents and members of the public to help by keeping an eye on their own neighbourhoods.

"Most importantly, we urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around vacant properties to contact police urgently.

"The message is - don't wait.  If you see suspicious activity, call 111 immediately and we will respond and investigate."

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