Australian Bushfires: 24 People Charged with Starting Fires
24 charged with bushfire-related offences in Australia so far this season
So far, over 180 people have faced legal action in Australia, accused of fire-related offenses, with 24 people charged with deliberately starting bushfires amid the devastating season which destroyed more than 2,000 homes and left 25 people dead.
29 blazes have been deliberately lit on the New South Wales south coast, where at least nine people have died since the fire season started in October.
24 people have now been charged with starting blazes in the bush and face up to 21 years in prison if convicted.
UPDATE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 183 were arrested for starting fires, but New South Wales has only taken legal action against 183 people related to the fires - 1/4 of whom were cited for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match. Only 24 people have actually been charged with the very serious offense of deliberately starting bushfires. We have corrected the article and updated the title to clarify this.
A further 159 have been charged or cautioned over less serious fire offenses so far.
53 people arrested for failing to comply with state-imposed fire bans.
The claims of arson have already become a political battleground, with some politicians and commentators arguing that environmental issues are to blame for the fires.
Referring to the arrests, Liberal MP Craig Kelly told ABC News that arson is the logical cause for the fires.
"Unprecedented" numbers of people had been arrested and charged with arson offenses, he claimed.
Mr. Kelly also sparked a row on UK television after arguing that the fires were deliberately started during an interview on Good Morning Britain, before calling meteorologist Laura Tobin an "ignorant Pommy weather girl."
Todd Starnes, a former conservative talk show host in the US, also pointed to the arson arrests to make a similar argument.
Arson is to blame for "the humanitarian crisis unfolding Down Under," he said.
In addition, analysis by Dr. Timothy Graham from the Queensland University of Technology suggests that there may be a deliberate misinformation campaign on Twitter to muddy the waters concerning the true cause of the blazes.
Tweets with the hashtag #ArsonEmergency were more likely to come from suspect accounts than others such as #AustraliaFire, he found, according to ZDNet.
The fires have caught the attention of Hollywood, where numerous celebrities used Sunday night's Golden Globes to draw attention to the blazes.
In Queensland, police have arrested 101 people accused of starting bushfires, 69 juveniles, and 32 adults, according to the Daily Mail.
Five people were arrested for allegedly setting bushland alight in Tasmania - and a further 10 in South Australia.
#ISIS terrorists are urging their followers to light devastating #ForestFires across America and Europe, as the terror group hopes to create ecological carnage in the wake of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death last month.— Neon Nettle (@NeonNettle) November 6, 2019
READ MORE: https://t.co/9GrCXzAzha
Meanwhile, in Victoria, where locals have experienced some of the most catastrophic conditions the nation has ever seen, 43 people were charged with firebug offenses.
There have been 183 people arrested or charged with lighting bushfires nationally - and police fear that figure will climb.
"Police are well aware that we need to take action against people, whatever that might be, in this time it is particularly a heightened risk of fire activity and we've seen the devastation it causes," NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said on Tuesday.
"We make no apologies for being so vigilant about that."
Mitch Parish, a former arson squad detective, said the international frenzy surrounding the bushfire crisis would only increase a "vanity arsonists" desire to light an inferno.
"It's got to the stage where they're seeing all the publicity on the fires … and they get bit of a buzz because of all the attention," Mr. Parish said.
"People get very emotional and passionate (about fires) and feel a lot of power because it's a very destructive force."
NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Blake Banner was charged with lighting seven fires in the south coast region.
The 19-year-old was allegedly spotted leaving a location as a fire spread rapidly and arrived at a fire ground to help put out a blaze before any of his fellow volunteers on another occasion, police say.
He was granted bail and intends to fight the accusations.
Banner was stood down from his duties with the force in the interim and Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said members will be devastated if the allegations are proven true.
"Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many," he said.
A 79-year-old South Australian man was also charged with starting multiple grass and shrub fires as the nation welcomed in the new year.
Police will allege the man lit fires on December 30 and January 2, and then two on Saturday, all in the Kingston area, on the state's south-east coastline.
The devastating bushfires have cost 25 people their lives so far this season, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and thousands more outbuildings and dwellings.
The blazes, which have now been burning along much of the east coast of Australia for three months, have scorched more than six million hectares of land.