In a five-part campaign titled 'The Burning Issue', the Central Western Daily is exploring the troubling volume of car thefts and fires in our city, and seeking answers and solutions from those in power. This is the second story in the series, examining the impact on the victims ...
On April 24, the life of Greg Thomas and his family turned upside down.
On holiday on the South Coast, Mr Thomas received a call from a friend who had been checking in on his house and told him his property, which he shared with his partner and her 10-year-old daughter, had been broken into, and his car was missing.
That call came at about 9.30am, and within 30 minutes, his car - a Holden Commodore, the charred wreckage of which was initially identified by police as a Berlina - had been set alight in broad daylight in a reserve on Leura Road in Glenroi.
VIDEO: The smouldering remains of Mr Thomas's car ...
The family was hit by two break-ins, the second one after they were forced to prematurely return to Orange from their holiday, and were sleeping in their house.
It occurred less than 48 hours after Mr Thomas' car keys were stolen from a safe and the vehicle set alight, and the fear in Mr Thomas' household since the criminal acts has been palpable.
"My partner and her daughter have been that shit-scared, her daughter's sleeping on the lounge in our bedroom because she's too scared of the night time," Mr Thomas said.
He now sleeps with a cricket bat by his bed, in case of another break-in. His two children from a previous relationship, aged 13 and nine, are scared to stay in his house when they visit on weekends.
"I normally I'd have them all weekend but I'm dropping them back to their mother's this afternoon. That's my weekend with the kids, but I'm not going to tell them they have to sleep here and put them under that pressure," he said.
"I can walk into the room, my partner doesn't realise I'm there and she goes through the roof when she notices me.
"The smoke alarm went off the other night and her daughter freaked out and thought someone was in the house."
Mr Thomas's partner and their children did not wish to be named in this article, and they're not alone in that regard.
Journalists from the Central Western Daily have attended the scenes and aftermaths of car fires across Orange, and found victims reluctant to talk for fear of retribution, concerned they'd been targeted, and would be again.
No two car burnings are the same, he said, and they're the most visible part of rising crime in the town Mr Thomas has lived in for 21 years, with drugs, thefts, and break and enters all linked to the problem.
MAP: Some of the car fires in Orange in 2019 ...
He acknowledged he's come out of the crime better than most, with insurance covering a hire car and some of the costs of the break-in, and said most don't have it that lucky.
"Some people in town don't have insurance or can't afford it. I'm lucky that I have a hire car, working at the mine, [I'm] starting early and finishing early and picking kids up from school," he said.
"Many people don't have that."
Mr Thomas has decided to move out of his house, which is a stone's throw from the Botanical Gardens, due to the stress - but said finding an area of town not touched by car burnings and crime has been difficult.
At a police forum held last week, Central West Police District detective inspector Bruce Grassick told the Central Western Daily "crime rates have dropped dramatically in the last three years".
Mr Thomas, who was at that forum, disagreed, and said he's "never seen it like this".
I was ropeable, I'd spoken to them to ask them to do something, they didn't do anything and they came back that night.Greg Thomas
"I used to live in Diamond Drive and that was a good area, but we heard about that young fella who got killed a couple of months back a couple of hundred metres from where I lived and it was like 'woah'," he said.
According to Mr Thomas, the justice system has made it hard to catch, prosecute and punish criminals. The laws around the use of social media evidence in court is murky, and a shift in the law over the past 12 months has made it more difficult to lock people up, with a focus on rehabilitation instead.
He also said he'd been advised not to attack people who entered his house, but Mr Thomas said he was "old-school" in that regard and would protect his family.
"I don't know the strength of other people. If they're on ice they've got five times the strength," he said.
"You've seen there from Koorawatha on the weekend a lot of people could sit with that but the 21-year-old will get into a lot of trouble."
Mr Thomas never went to look at the burned-out wreck of his car - "I didn't want to see it" - but every car burning since brings back memories and heightens the fear that it could happen again, as it does for countless others around Orange.
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