FLAMES AND FURY: Bushland housing a bat camp behind East Cessnock Public School was set alight on Saturday night. It comes as debate rages about large numbers of flying foxes in the Hunter. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers
A DELIBERATELY lit fire has threatened to burn up to 30,000 bats alive in Cessnock as anger with the animal reaches breaking point.
Firefighters were called to the camp behind East Cessnock Primary School – a hotspot in the region-wide bat plague – about 11.30pm on Saturday night.
The fire was contained before damaging property or injuring wildlife.
Hunter Wildlife Rescue disaster co-ordinator Audrey Koosmen was horrified by what she saw.
Ms Koosmen said firefighters and wildlife volunteers were threatened by residents as the fire was extinguished.
“Somebody has had the hide to burn the bats,” she said.
“The sad part about this is some residents around the area were abusive to the firemen who were just doing their job.
“We had to call the police in because we were being threatened.”
Ms Koosmen acknowledged that patience with the bats – situated just metres from property – was being tested, but urged affected residents to exercise self-control.
“Emotion is running very high – I can understand that – but I’m really concerned for people who are going around doing this sort of action because it may come back and bite them,” she said.
“If that blaze had taken off last night, it could have burnt the school down.
“It could have taken homes.”
Fearing the fire was just the tip of the iceberg, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon pleaded with authorities to act on the scourge.
“I said this would happen,” he said.
“The last thing we want is people starting to take the law into their own hands and we need to act now.”
Ms Koosmen said pregnant little red flying foxes, along with grey-haired flying foxes, were roosting at the Cessnock site.
“Burning these animals alive is not the right thing to do,” she said.
“We’re hoping they will move on soon."
Residents who live near the bats have reported health problems, reduced quality of living and damage to property.