POLICE are seeking three individuals who performed a daring ram raid at the Caltex roadhouse in the early hours of yesterday, stealing an ATM which they then dragged along the GV Highway for around a kilometre, sparking a grass fire.
The roadhouse’s manager Yashik Aggarwal told the Leader that he was asleep in the residence behind the roadhouse when he was awoken by a loud bang at 1.37am.
Mr Aggarwal, and a colleague who had been asleep in another room, checked the CCTV cameras and immediately called police when they saw three offenders removing the ATM through the damaged front window.
“They had reversed through the window and were trying to lift the ATM but it was too heavy. The ATM was bolted to a concrete block which was attached to the floor so there was no way they would ever be able to lift it,” he said.
Whilst on the phone to the police, Mr Aggarwal and his colleague observed as the offenders attached a chain to the ATM and hooked it to the rear of the ute.
The offenders then drove the ute around to the front of the property until the chain was taut, and accelerated sharply.
“The ATM flew around in an arc and hit the bollards in front of the LPG bowser and then they took off with it and there were sparks flying everywhere from where it was dragging on the ground.”
The ATM was dragged north along the GV Highway for around 1km, sparking a grass fire on the eastern side of the road between Saxton St West and Katamatite/Nathalia Road.
The ATM was located a few metres south of Katamatite/Nathalia Road, and the ute, which had been stolen from Kyabram on Monday evening, was later found burnt out in Moira Lakes Road, Barmah.
It is not known whether the ATM came loose from the ute of its own accord, or was unhooked by the offenders.
Numurkah brigade responded to the fire with its tanker, forward control vehicle and pumper, but with the fire burning trees along the roadside and drainage channel and threatening two crops, more tankers were called for.
Brigades from Katunga, Waaia, Strathmerton, Kaarimba, Drumanure, Naring, Tallygaroopna, Yarroweyah, Cobram and Nathalia responded to the call and the combined forces were able to extinguish the blaze which burnt around two hectares of ground, and partially into one crop.
Numurkah CFA brigade Captain Jason Cox told the Leader that the fire had been an eye-opener for the responding firefighters.
“It was startling to see a grass fire moving that quickly at 2am in the morning,” he said.
“We were very, very lucky that the wind wasn’t a north easterly, or it would have torn straight through those crops and very quickly put two houses in danger.
“If the wind had turned on us it could have gotten out of control pretty suddenly.”
Whilst they were at the scene, Nathalia brigade received a call to a vehicle alight at the edge of the Barmah National Park at Barmah, which is now known to be the vehicle that had been used in the ram raid.
Numurkah brigade returned to the scene of the grass fire beside the highway just before midday yesterday when they received a report of a flare up, and quickly had it extinguished.
The north bound lane of the highway was closed to traffic between Saxton St West and Katamatite/Nathalia Road for most of the morning.
SES personnel were called in to protect the ATM from the elements until local police arrived to await the arrival of forensic officers, which occurred mid-morning, and the ATM was removed from the scene.
Mr Aggarwal told the Leader he hopes to have the road house reopened today or tomorrow, once it has been made secure and safe for customers.