An expert has warned that forcing teenagers to work with the victims of a bushfire could be traumatising to the point they become adult arsonists. Drone photos after the fire devastation at Peregian. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
An expert has warned that forcing teenagers to work with the victims of a bushfire could be traumatising to the point they become adult arsonists. Drone photos after the fire devastation at Peregian. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

Expert warns against vilifying accused Peregian arsonists

PUBLICLY vilifying two teenagers accused of allegedly starting the Peregian bushfire could retraumatise them into becoming legitimate firebugs, an expert warns.

Dr Paul Read, co-director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson, urged the public to allow justice to run its course after a teenage boy and girl were charged with endangering property by fire.

Many on social media have demanded if found guilty, the pair should be imprisoned or confront the bushfire aftermath by working with its victims and emergency services.

Dr Read said these methods could "destroy their lives", as they were likely one of three non-malicious subcategories of fire lighting children who cared about the consequences of their actions. He said these included autistic children who were fascinated by fire; the depressed and suicidal children who lit fires as a "cry for help"; and those who engage in "experimental fireplay".

He said only one subgroup were "angry, dangerous and malicious" future psychopaths, whose intent was to destroy.

He said these children were best dealt with through incarceration rather than working with the victims, as they were "psychopaths" without empathy or compassion.

Mr Read said in the aftermath of the Peregian fire, it was natural for people to seek punishment for those accused of allegedly starting it, but it was important to understand the perpetrator's initial motives or intentions to prevent future bushfires.

"The malicious kids need the full force of the youth justice system (custody)," he said.

"The autistic and abused children need social, medical case management across human services.

"The experimental fireplay kids don't need much at all, they need … education about responsible use of fire.

"Police and firefighters going into schools, that's sufficient for that group."