In what has been called the “most challenging bushfire season ever,” a shocking five million acres of Australia’s land has been ravaged by more than 7,000 fires since July. A total of six people have died in the fires that have destroyed 673 homes and around 1400 other structures and rendered koalas “functionally extinct.”
And now, three 12-year-old boys have allegedly been caught setting fires south of Sydney in Wollongong, the third largest city in New South Wales.
Two of the boys reportedly started a grass fire Sunday morning in Wollongong, while the third was issued a caution after a fire was lit that afternoon in a Wollongong suburb.
While both fires were thankfully extinguished soon after being lit, all three boys have been “dealt with” under the Young Offenders Act and will attend a youth conference for deliberately lighting the fires, reportsthe Daily Mail.
Brian Pedersen, Lake Illawarra Police District Inspector, has said that deliberately lit fires in the region have been of concern to local officials. Pedersen explains:
“It’s quite distressing to see young people in particular continuing to ignore the message about how dangerous fires can be.
We are urging the whole community to be vigilant and report any suspicious behavior.”
In late November, a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter with the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales was charged with lighting seven fires since October 17. He reportedly lit fires before leaving the area only to return later to fight them. The teen is scheduled to return to court on December 17.
Shane Fitzsimmons, Rural Fire Service Commissioner, called the firefighter’s actions “the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community.”
The situation in New South Wales remains volatile. The Rural Fire Service in New South Wales said fire activity has “increased over the evening due to strong westerly winds” as an emergency warning was issued due to bushfires doubling in size along the New South Wales South Coast.
Residents in some areas have been warned that, due to the wind and closure of the Princes Highway, “It is too late to leave.” Strong winds are expected to persist through the weekend with a reprieve not expected until he weekend.
As of Sunday, around 150 grass and bush fires were burning across New South Wales with only two-thirds of them contained.