Hundreds of cars are being destroyed by fire in the Illawarra each year, with the owners left counting the costs.
The number of burnt-out cars has jumped by one-third during the past 12 months, from 159 during 2021-22, to 212 in 2022-23.
Many of these vehicles are stolen and driven around before being torched.
Despite the recent increase in fires, the number has fallen significantly compared to when firefighters extinguished 271 burning vehicles during 2018-19.
For those in between years, there were 228 fires in 2019-2020, and 232 in 2020-21.
Data exclusively provided to the Illawarra Mercury was for all car fires, including from criminal activity and cases where a mechanical fault or accident caused it to ignite.
There were many more car fires in the Central Coast (354) and Newcastle (243) during 2022-23 compared to the 212 in the Illawarra.
Berkeley resident Simona Andreini said her partner owned one of the cars that was stolen and torched on August 11, 2023.
"We'd left home at 6.15pm in an Uber and when we got back Paul's car was gone," she said.
"My partner's got an interlock on it so they would have had to start it and then blow, and then wait for the result before they could go."
His car was stolen after thieves broke into their home, found the keys inside and then took the vehicle.
It's the family's third break-in during the past three years, including one when thieves entered the house as her elderly mother was sleeping.
"I'm gutted, especially for my mum, she's lived here for 55 years. She's one of the original Berkeley people," Ms Andreini said.
Fire and Rescue NSW Dapto crews were called out the day Ms Andreini's partner's car was torched.
"After the tail shaft exploded a hole was ripped into the fuel tank causing a consistent flow of fuel underneath the vehicle," firefighters said.
"The crew from Dapto struggled for a short while as the flow of ignited fuel kept breaking through the foam barrier, reigniting the vehicle. After some persistence from Firefighter Phillips, the car was extinguished."
Albion Park sporting clubs have complained to police and council about cars being dumped and torched at Croome Road Sporting Complex.
On August 30, a car that was torched at a Cliff Road housing complex in Wollongong, sent residents running for their lives after it spread to a second vehicle and a boat.
Wollongong Police District Acting Inspector Jayson Joerdens said many of the car thefts, and subsequent fires, have occurred following a home break-in.
"That's hard to control because the people are doing the right thing. They've got their car locked up and their keys locked up," he said.
"There hasn't been too many ones in relation to the opportunistic theft of the vehicles."
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