Image credit: Ralf Neumann
Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
It was the bizarre moment a woman boarded a bus and allegedly lit a fire that ended up destroying the vehicle and forcing an evacuation of its driver and passengers on the NSW Mid North Coast.
Around 1:15pm on Thursday 11 March 2021, fire crews by the dozen were called to the corner of Lake and West streets in Forster after reports a bus had caught alight.
According to statements from witnesses given to police, the flames began as a small fire in the onboard toilet in the aftermath of an argument between a passenger and the bus driver.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before the bus exploded into a dramatic blaze, placing the lives of those on board at risk – nine passengers who had to be evacuated, along with the driver, who stepped off the bus last and suffered smoke inhalation.
By the time rescue workers arrived at the scene, the blaze had well and truly engulfed the 60-seat vehicle, with the flames smouldering at least double the height of the bus and gusts of black smoke clouding above.
While fire crews were able to extinguish the inferno, the bus was left completely destroyed.
Making matters worse, the fire, damaging power lines above the bus, knocked out all power in the surrounding streets for much of the day, including Forster Police Station.
It is understood the woman fled the scene in an attempt to avoid police arrival.
Meanwhile, the driver was assessed for smoke inhalation, although did not require hospitalisation.
Police Hunt Underway for Arsonist as Fire Believed to Be A Deliberate Attack
Following the incident, officers attached to Manning-Great Lakes Police District conducted extensive inquiries into the woman’s whereabouts and commenced an official search.
Police believe the fire was a deliberate attack.
Addressing the attack, Chief Inspector Tony Moodie said the suspect is believed to be in her mid-20s and it is understood she started arguing with the bus driver when boarding the vehicle.
Inspector Moodie said the “fire really engulfed the bus and completely destroyed the inside of it”.
He commended the efforts of the driver and passengers, saying, “the fact that they all got off, no one was injured, is probably good work by all involved”.
In NSW, it is a criminal offence to damage or destroy another person’s property – and when this is done by means of fire or explosives, the penalties become very serious.
According to section 195(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1900, a person found guilty of destroying or damaging property belonging to another where fire or explosives are used to damage that property can face a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in jail.
Where the aforementioned occurs in the company of another person or persons, the maximum penalty increases to up to 11 years in jail.
Where the aforementioned offences take place in addition to being during a public disorder, the maximum penalty for destroying or damaging the property by fire again increases, to 12 years in jail.
Click here for the law on the meaning of ‘damage’ in criminal law.
Behind the Minds of Firebugs: Why People Deliberately Light Fires
It’s the burning question: Why do people light fires to begin with?
When it comes to simply setting things alight, lecturer in psychology at Southern Cross University, Dr James Donnelly, advises that this behaviour usually begins due to a person’s intrigue with fire, which tends to form at a young age.
Specifically, Dr Donnelly informs that fire-setting behaviour is often recognised in children and adolescents.
The behaviour differs to arson, which is a crime of violence, commonly involving motivations of revenge or financial gain.
“Someone wants to burn down their building for insurance purposes, where they want to pay someone back, where they want to eliminate competition in the neighbourhood,” Dr Donnelly says of arson attacks.
In comparison, fire-setting starts in children due to the appeal of fire itself, encouraging parents to be “very proactive” and educate early if they spot their youngster around the home burning matches, building fires outside or playing with candles.
“Even with children, punishing them doesn’t necessarily make the fascination go away,” Dr Donnelly cautions, urging that children be taught the responsibilities of fire.