24 Australians arrested for setting bushfires on purpose, police say

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Two dozen Australians were arrested for deliberately setting fires as wildfires continue to devastate Australia, according to New South Wales police.

Police say 53 people are facing legal action for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban and 47 people are facing legal action for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.

The people accused of setting fires on purpose could reportedly face up to 21 years in prison.

The infernos are strengthened by strong winds and a record-setting heat wave while the country experiences a major drought.

“At the moment everybody is panicking and yeah it’s pretty surreal,” a resident said.

More than a dozen deaths already confirmed nationwide, and hundreds of structures have been destroyed.

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Koala populations are also at risk, and a large portion may have died in the wildfires.

Sussan Ley, the federal environment minister, said Friday that up to 30% may have been killed in the bush fires in New South Wales.

She says wildfires have torched up to 30% of their habitat.

According to the Australia zoo, there were only about 40,000 to 100,000 koalas remaining after "uncontrolled habitat destruction."

The animals are now considered endangered.

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“It’s absolutely a time for vigilance and no time for complacency at all," said Deb Abbott with Emergency Management Victoria.

Every state in Australia has been scorched, but New South Wales has seen the worst of the blazes.

Some of the firefighters who were on the south coast of New South Wales got caught in a situation that could have turned fatal.

"When we were in there, in the thick of it, we thought that this could be it," said Deputy Capt. Jasper Croft with New South Wales Fire and Rescue.

Eventually, the crew decided to abandon its firetruck and flee.

"It had got to a point where it was too dangerous to remain in the vehicle," Deputy Capt. Kayle Barton with New South Wales Fire and Rescue.

More than 2,000 firefighters are on the ground in New South Wales alone, and other countries, including the US and Canada have sent firefighters to help.

And it may be a while before things are eased. Australia is just starting its summer season.

Temperatures there usually peak in January and February.

“It’s just a whirlwind you just do what you have to do to survive, I guess," a resident said.

New south wales is declaring a state of emergency at 9 a.m. local time on Friday.

More than five million hectares have been burned in Australia.

To use a comparison, California's deadliest fire scorched just over 62,000 hectares.

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