Officials in Australia have arrested at least 24 people accused of intentionally starting fires as horrific bushfires have ravaged the country. In total, 183 people are facing fire related-charges, with 53 people facing legal action for not complying with the state’s fire ban and 47 people facing charges for discarding a lit cigarette or match on land. In Queensland, authorities believe that 103 fires were deliberately set and have arrested dozens of people, including 69 juveniles, since November.
In one case, 19-year-old Rural Fire Service volunteer Blake Banner was charged with lighting seven fires while battling the blazes along the southern coast.
“Our members will be rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many,” Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
The bushfires have raged out of control and torched over 12 million acres, killing at least 25 people and destroying over 2,000 homes. The fires have also decimated the wildlife population, with the University of Sydney estimating that 480 million animals have died in New South Wales alone.
“The fires have also been devastating for Australia’s wildlife and wild places, as vital areas of bush, forests, and parks have been scorched and many millions of animals killed or injured,” Dr. Stuart Blanch, a senior manager with the World Wildlife Fund-Australia, told ABC News. “Until the fires subside, the full extent of damage will remain unknown.”