Man arrested over fires

POLICE had to jump into a river in the dark to arrest a man for allegedly lighting fires on a total fire ban day.

The 52-year-old will face court today on charges of lighting fires during a total fire ban and threatening police.

Police say the man lit a fire near Oxley Flats Road camp area in Wangaratta on Friday morning, before lighting a fire in the same spot that night.

The man was arrested about 10.30pm on Friday after threatening police with a piece of wood, and later fleeing into the nearby Ovens River.

Members of Wangaratta’s Operation Fire Setter first came across the man late on Friday morning during a routine check of the riverside camping spot.

He was sleeping just metres from a small, smouldering fire.

Police questioned him and issued him with an infringement notice.

That night police got a call from the CFA about a fire burning in the same location.

On arrival they found the same man abusing several CFA officers who had come to put a fire out.

“When police arrived he was aggressive and said he would continue to light fires,” Sgt Mick Savage, from Wangaratta police, said.

“He then threatened police officers with a piece of wood.”

When police tried to arrest the man he fled into the river.

For two hours officers tried unsuccessfully to coax him out, with no success.

With no alternative they jumped into the river and arrested him about 10.30pm.

He was refused bail and remanded in custody.

In an unrelated incident a youth, 14, was let off with a warning after lighting three small grass fires at a Wangaratta community college.

Firefighters from two trucks put out the fires at The Centre just before 9am on Saturday.

An hour later police arrested a boy after receiving descriptions from several witnesses.

Sgt Savage said without the fire brigade’s quick reaction, there would have been extensive damage to the building.

He said parents should ensure their children did not have lighters or matches.