The Associated Press reported Friday that “only” 24 people have been arrested for deliberately starting fires in New South Wales this season in an article weighing the relative impact of arson on the Australian bushfire crisis.
The article stated that AP FactCheck had investigated “misinformation on Facebook and Instagram” regarding a statement by police in New South Wales that said “legal action” had been taken against 183 people since November for “bushfire-related offenses.”
Of these 183 cases, only 24 people had been charged over “deliberately-lit bushfires,” AP stated, while legal action had also been taken against another 100 people for “conduct that could be described as being careless during a fire ban.”
Yet AP also cited “arson expert” Troy McEwan of Swinburne University of Technology as saying that “a significant proportion of bushfires are deliberately lit in Australia.”
“We need to be open to the idea that it could be caused by arson, but, equally, it’s not helpful to say these fires are always caused by arson or the majority of them are because the reality is, it seems, that most very large fires are not caused by arson,” McEwan said.
The Australian reported on January 13 that in the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone, “74 people were arrested for deliberately lighting bushfires in the past 12 months.”
“Of 21 convicted of crimes relating to setting bushfires, three were sentenced to prison and the rest given community service orders or fined,” the article stated.
In the state of Queensland, where fires were reportedly the worst in November, police arrested an additional 101 people “for setting blazes in the bush,” TVT News reported, including 32 adults and 69 minors.
Last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a police strike force in New South Wales had launched a “data collation and investigation plan” in order to review the cause and impacts of the “more than 1700 bushfires already reported to police.”
“Of those 1700, police say that 716 were deliberate [sic] lit,” stated the article by Crime Reporter Sally Rawsthorne, a figure that would represent 42 percent of the bushfires.
“They range from very minor behaviour right up to intentional arsonist behavior — those that are listed as accidental right through to intentional,” said State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith.
Of the 1700 bushfires, police believe that “156 were caused naturally” while another 745 were of “an undetermined cause,” the article stated.
In her article, Hawthorne said that NSW police had provided “new figures” showing that legal action has been taken against 55 people for “fires that were allegedly deliberately lit since August 1.”
James Ogloff, the director of the Forensic Behavioural Science at Swinburne University, said that approximately 50 percent of Australia’s bushfires are started by arsonists, the Australian reported.
“They’re interested in seeing fire, interested in setting fire and quite often the information around how fires burn and accelerate excites them,” Ogloff said.