Australian police launch search for an arsonist

Police in Australia’s state of South Australia (SA) have launched a search for an arsonist suspected of deliberately lighting several fires amid severe conditions.

Firefighters on Friday evening were deployed to control eight grass fires that posed a significant risk to communities north of Adelaide, the capital city of SA.

“Country Fire Service (CFS) crews were able to bring all fires under control quickly with minimal damage, however the potential risk to local communities was significant given the weather conditions,” SA Police said in a statement.

Police have alleged the fires were deliberately lit and are investigating the incident, with officers stationed in the area overnight to prevent any further ignitions.

It came as temperatures across the state soared above 40 degrees Celsius on Friday, prompting an extreme bushfire danger warning and total fire bans in eight districts.

Residents of Kangaroo Flat were told to take cover from a blaze that was ignited naturally on Friday morning, with 21 fire crews and six aircraft along with farm fighting units eventually able to contain it.

A person found guilty of deliberately starting a bushfire in SA – defined under the law as a fire that burns, or threatens to, out of control causing damage to vegetation – faces a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.

Those who light fires that damage property can face life imprisonment.

According to a report published by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) in 2008, at least 13.3 percent of all vegetation fires in Australia are the result of deliberate ignitions.

The same report noted that a further 36.2 percent of vegetation fires are considered suspicious, meaning almost half could be lit maliciously. ■

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