By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
While the worst bushfires in Australia’s history remain largely uncontained, police have charged 24 people with “intentionally starting bushfires in the state of New South Wales,” CNN reported Wednesday.
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The bush and grass fires so far have claimed 18 lives, including three Rural Fire Service volunteers. The bushfires have also killed hundreds of millions of animals and livestock, in addition to destroying thousands of homes and about five million hectares (1.9 million square miles) of land, CNN said.
Since Late 2019, NSW Police Have Charged Over 180 People for Bushfire-Related Offenses
The New South Wales (NSW) Police said in a statement released Monday that they have “taken legal action against more than 180 people for bushfire-related offences since late last year.”
The statement reported that as of Friday, November 8, 2019, “legal action – which ranges from cautions through to criminal charges – has been taken against 183 people – including 40 juveniles – for 205 bushfire-related offences.” Among them:
- 24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires.
- 53 people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban.
- 47 people have had legal actions for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.
The NSW Police statement also noted that investigations are continuing into the cause, origin and overall impact of fires and since the latest State of Emergency was declared on Jan 2. The NSW Strike Force, comprised of detectives from the Financial Crimes Squad’s Arson Unit, has provided expertise to six Police Area Commands and eight Police Districts.
Crimes Relating to Bushfires Carry Heavy Penalties
Port Macquarie News, a New South Wales newspaper, listed some of the penalties relating to bushfires under the NSW Crimes Act, the Rural Fires Act and Rural Fires Regulation. The penalties include:
- Damaging property with the intention of endangering life — up to 25 years imprisonment
- Manslaughter — up to 25 years imprisonment
- Starting a bushfire and being reckless as to its spread — up to 21 years imprisonment
- Lighting a fire when a total fire ban is in place — up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5,500 ($3,770 US) fine
- Not putting out a fire that you have lit — up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine
- Failing to comply with a bush fire hazard reduction notice — up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine
- Light or use a tobacco product within 15 meters of any stack of grain, hay corn, straw or any standing crop, dry grass or stubble field — up to a $5,500 fine.
Record Low Rainfall in December Aided Spread of Bushfires
The wildfires were aided by a record low rainfall in December. “December alone was not a standout month but it came at the end of a very hot year,” Ben Domensino, a meteorologist at Weatherzone, told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Rainfall in December was just 1.6 millimeters (.06 inches), beating the record low of 2.8 millimeters (0.11 inches) for December 1979, the Morning Herald said.
Last year was Sydney’s hottest in 161 years, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology records. “It was also its driest year since 2005 — during the height of the Millennium Drought,” Domensino added.