Nearly 200 People Arrested In Australia For Deliberately Lighting Bushfires for Climate Change
In this image released on Jan. 2, 2020, a massive smoke rises from wildfires burning in East Gippsland, Victoria. (Dale Appleton/DELWP via AP)AUSTRALIA
BY KATABELLA ROBERTS January 7, 2020
A total of 183 people have been arrested by police across the states of Queensland, New South Wales (NSW), Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania since November for 205 bushfire-related offenses, local media reports.
In NSW, 24 were apprehended and charged with deliberately lighting bushfires. A further 53 people are facing legal action for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban, while 47 others are accused of improperly discarding a lit cigarette or match outdoors, according to the Nine network.
In Queensland, police concluded that 103 fires had been deliberately lit, with 98 people—67 of them juveniles—having been identified as the culprits.
Devastating bushfires have ravaged Australia in recent months, killing at least 25 people and destroying hundreds of millions of animals and livestock. Over 2,000 homes have been destroyed 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 the U.S. state of Maryland.
Under the NSW Crimes Act, the Rural Fires Act, and Rural Fires Regulation, penalties relating to lighting bushfires include up to 25 years in prison for damaging property with the intention of endangering life and 21 years in prison for starting a bushfire and and being reckless as to its spread.
Those caught lighting a fire when a total fire ban is in place risk 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.
Around 85 per cent of bushfires are caused by humans either deliberately or accidentally starting them, Dr. Paul Read, co-director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in September 2019.
“About 85 per cent are related to human activity, 13 per cent confirmed arson and 37 per cent suspected arson,” he said. “The remainder are usually due to reckless fire lighting or even just children playing with fire.”
According to Melbourne University bushfire expert Janet Stanley, the majority of fires are lit by young people aged 12 to 24. However, worryingly, they have also been set by children as young as ten.
“Unfortunately, 10 per cent of people who we think light fires are 10 years old or younger,” she told Newscorp in December 2019.
Although there is very little research conducted on arsonists worldwide, Stanley believes there are a number of reasons and circumstances why they may start fires, adding that she doesn’t believe they are evil. Stanley started researching bushfire arson after her own home was burned down in 1983.
“Older men are also prone to lighting fires,” she said. “They often have a history of child abuse and neglect. They probably dropped out of school at a very early age, living on the edge of society, likely to be unemployed, not engaged in the community.
“In most cases, they don’t intend to cause this chaos, they might just like to make a fuss,” she added.
Stanley added that “much clearer” data needs to be collected to understand why people are lighting fires and noted that “not all fires are officially recorded, let alone being investigated.”
“We need to understand how to better protect and understand these people (arsonists). Sometimes they are quite happy to be caught—they feel safer in jail,” she said.
Australia’s current bushfire crisis began in September, coinciding with a temperature imbalance recorded in the Indian Ocean that, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), has contributed to favorable fire conditions across the country.
As the temperature imbalance, known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, brought reduced rainfall and low humidity to Australia while causing intense rains on the western side of the Indian Ocean in East Africa.
There, devastating floods and landslides have killed more than 280 people, and hundreds of thousands more have been forced to flee their homes, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.