The authorities in Australia say that they have now arrested almost 200 people for alleged arson since the devastating bushfires began last year.
Australian media reports that in the states of Queensland, New South Wales (NSW), Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania over 180 people have been arrested for 205 bushfire-related offences.
In New South Wales over 50 people have been told that they will face legal action for failing to comply with a total fire ban while 47 others are accused of improperly discarding a lit cigarette or match outdoors. A further 24 people were arrested and charged with deliberately lighting bushfires. A further 53 people are facing legal action for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban.
Those caught lighting a fire during a total fire ban could receive up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a A$5,500 fine, while those seen lighting or using a tobacco product within 15 metres of any stack of grain, hay corn, straw or any standing crop, dry grass, or stubble field could receive a fine of up to A$5,500.
The Queensland police say that a further 103 fires had been lit on purpose, with 98 people—67 of them juveniles—having been identified as the culprits.
Reports say that at least 25 people have now lost their lives in the fires and hundreds of millions of animals and livestock have been destroyed. Over 2,000 homes have been devastated by the blazes, which have so far burned through more than 5.25 million hectares (13 million acres) of land, an area twice the size of Wales.
Firefighters from Southern California are also being deployed to Australia in the fight against bushfires that have forced one of the largest evacuations in the country’s history.
The Angeles National Forest Service has sent 20 firefighters to Australia, a spokesman said. The firefighters, who come from all parts of the Los Angeles area, battled the Saddle Ridge Fire in October in the northern San Fernando Valley. They flew out of Los Angeles International Airport over the weekend.