Hundreds of Australians were arrested for deliberately starting the devastating bushfires since September, that have so far claimed the lives of 25 people, according to report on Tuesday.
According to the Australian newspaper, the people were arrested in New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, the worst-hit states.
In New South Wales alone, 183 people were charged or cautioned for bushfire-related offences since November, with 24 arrested for deliberately starting bushfires.
While in Victoria 43 were charged and in Queensland, where the fires were worst in November, 101 people have been arrested for deliberately starting fires, almost 70 per cent of whom were juveniles.
According to James Ogloff, the director of the Forensic Behavioural Science at Swinburne University, approximately 50 per cent of Australia’s bushfires were started by arsonists.
Brendon Sokaluk, a former volunteer firefighter, was sentenced to 17 years and nine months in jail for starting a 2009 bushfire in Victoria that killed 10 people on Black Saturday, one of Australia’s worst bushfire events.
Earlier, PM Scott Morrison said, “This is taking a very heavy toll,” adding to it that more than 1,500 homes lost to fires across the country since September.
Morrison also cancelled his official trip to India that was planned for this month in order to deal with a bushfire crisis ravaging parts of his country.
About 4,000 people in the town of Mallacoota in Victoria headed to the waterfront after the main road was cut off.
The New South Wales (NSW) state had declared a state of emergency, with bushfire conditions expected to worsen over the coming days as a record-breaking heatwave sweeps across the country.
Catastrophic bushfires have turned swathes of land into smouldering, blackened hellscapes and destroyed an area about the size of the island of Ireland, according to official figures, with authorities warning the disaster still has weeks or months to run.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government has been criticised for its slow response to the emergency, pledged Australian $2 billion ($1.4 billion) of taxpayer money for a national recovery fund. “It’s a long road ahead and we will be with these communities every step of the way as they rebuild,” he added.
Fiona Kennelly, 50, who evacuated with 24 members of her extended family to a motel outside Eden, said she was relieved the easing conditions allowed them to get some respite from the crisis. “It’s good to see daylight at the right time again,” she told news agency AFP, adding that the skies had been turning pitch-black in the afternoons.
The impact of the bushfires has spread beyond affected communities, with heavy smoke engulfing the country’s second-largest city Melbourne and the national capital Canberra. Some government departments were shut in Canberra as the city’s air quality was once-again ranked the world’s poorest, according to independent online air-quality index monitor Air Visual.
The disaster has sparked growing public anger with Morrison. Rallies are planned on Friday to call on his government to step up efforts to tackle climate change, which experts say have helped fuel the fires.