Anger as arsonists burn hundreds of hectares of crops and bushland in Far North Queensland

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Police are searching for those responsible for deliberately starting a series of fires that saw dozens of homes threatened in Far North Queensland.

More than 100 firefighters were called to Chewko, near Mareeba, yesterday afternoon after 12 fires were lit along a road.

Hundreds of hectares of land were burnt, including several mango and sugarcane crops.

Rural Fire Service Queensland area director Neil Parker said the fires were all contained within an hour and containment efforts were continuing.

A fire
More than 100 firefighters and landowners battled the fires at Chewko.(Provided: Queensland Police Service)

“We had 100 firefighters out there and landowners,” Inspector Parker said.

“Many of them were on foot trying to put out fires with backpacks on their backs out in the middle of nowhere.

“There were about 25 structures threatened and luckily we didn’t lose any.

“If anyone has information contact Crime Stoppers. We have fire investigators out there with the police and we are looking for information.”

Police declared an emergency under the Public Safety Protection Act at 6 p.m., which was later withdrawn.

Smoke and burnt crops under a bright blue sky.
Hectares of sugar cane crops have been destroyed in the fire at Chewko, near Mareeba.(Provided by: Claude Santucci)

The fire spread near the grounds of Lotus Glen Prison, with corrections officers and fire crews forced to battle the flames.

Crews are still patrolling containment lines with assistance from a waterbombing helicopter.

‘It could have been devastating’

Sugar cane farmer Claude Santucci lost eight hectares of sugar cane in the blaze and fought the flames together with firefighters and neighbours.

A serious man in the cane fields wears a khaki shirt, cap, with a pen in one pocket and a handkerchief in the other pocket.
Farmer Claude Santucci lost sugar cane crops in the fire.(ABC Far North: Tanya Murphy)

“I am angry and disappointed that there are individuals out there who continue this type of activity for whatever reason,” Santucci said.

“It is really disappointing that we have members of society today who go on like this and will put people’s lives, property and livelihoods at risk without a second thought.

“It could have been devastating. I could have lost the whole farm, houses sheds and equipment.”

Banana farmer James Howe, who lives on Chewko Road, said they were able to contain the fire in time.

“We had done all our backburning with the necessary permits and I hadn’t taken all the gear off,” said Mr. Howe.

“I was lucky we had everything ready to go when I saw the smoke, we were able to catch it in time.”

The Queensland Police Service says it is investigating the cause of the fire.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers.

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