The theft of a bushfire control officer’s vehicle, stolen as firefighters battled a fire in Wellesley yesterday, was called an “absolutely low life act” by Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan.
Harvey Shire deputy chief bushfire control officer Mick Papalia kept battling the blaze as it burnt through bush 147km south of Perth, despite a man brandishing a machete and driving away in his personal car about midday yesterday.
Mr Papalia said the man appeared “out of nowhere” and when he told the man to get out of the vehicle, he noticed the machete.
“A gentleman was walking down the road, got to the car and basically opened the door up and I went ‘get out of my car’ and he’s slammed the back driver’s side door and jumped in the front,” Mr Papalia said.
“As we got round to face him he had a machete in his hand and I said ‘well, you can have the car’… he just started up and took off.”
Mr Papalia said he left the keys in the ignition to use his radio which allowed the man to make a quick getaway.
“I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen but I can’t do anything about it at the moment so I’ll just keep doing the job and putting the fire out,” he said yesterday while battling the blaze.
Police found the car abandoned in Waterloo. A suspect was under watch in hospital yesterday.
But their search efforts quickly turned to Bunbury Hospital where a suspect of interest had admitted himself.
The man remained under police watch in hospital yesterday afternoon, but charges were yet to be laid.
Detectives confirmed the man was known to police and it was thought he had mental health issues.
Mr Logan said the theft was a low life act and a disgrace.
“Taking the car of someone who is putting themselves on the line to help their community is a disgrace,” Mr Logan said.
“I hope when the police catch the person that they receive the full weight of the law.”
Australind police officer-in-charge Sen. Sgt Mark Smith and Harvey Shire president Tania Jackson echoed similar thoughts.
“The people who do this type of thing are parasites,” Sen. Sgt Smith said.
“They’ve preyed on the people who are out there trying to make us safe. I’m sure they will be dealt with accordingly.”
“It’s pretty disappointing when we have our volunteers put themselves in a position where they’re helping the community and that sort of event occurs,” Harvey shire president Tania Jackson said.
Firefighters were continuing to battle the blaze which had burnt through more than 20ha of bushland near Wellesley Road, Pleasure Road and Wellington Road.
A bushfire advice remained in place for the area.