Two-dozen people have been arrested in Australia’s fire-ravaged state of New South Wales after police say they intentionally set fires amid one of the country’s worst bushfire seasons on record.
The 24 people are among 183 facing bushfire-related offenses in the southeastern state since Nov. 8 last year, New South Wales Police Force said Monday.
Police say 53 people allegedly failed to comply with a total fire ban and 47 others allegedly discarded a lit cigarette or match on land. Just 40 of the 183 people are juveniles, police said.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has declared a state of emergency three times over two months, has called the ongoing catastrophe “the most devastating bushfire season in living memory.”
Since the start of the 2019 fire season, at least 8.4 million hectares (20.7 million acres) of land have burned across Australia. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state and home of its largest city, Sydney, has seen 4.9 million hectares burn and lost 1,588 homes.
Authorities have confirmed 24 deaths due to the fires, including 18 in New South Wales. More than 1 billion animals are estimated to have been killed, as well.
Three NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighters are among the dead.
Individuals found guilty of setting a bushfire in New South Wales can face up to 21 years in prison or up to 25 years if they’re found to have damaged property with the intent of endangering life. Lighting a fire during a total fire ban, failing to put out an intentionally lit fire, or failing to comply with a bush fire hazard reduction notice can result in up to 12 months in prison and/or a $5,500 fine, according to police.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter