24 charged with intentionally setting wildfires in Australia

As Australia begins to assess the damage from the catastrophic wildfires that have killed more than two dozen people and destroyed millions of acres of land nationwide, authorities on Monday said 24 people have been charged with intentionally setting some of those blazes.

Police in New South Wales said a total of 183 suspects, including 40 juveniles, have faced some type of legal action for a variety of bushfire-related offenses since early November. At least 47 of them are accused of discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land while 53 others were charged with failing to comply with a total fire ban, authorities said in a news release.

Those facing the most serious charges, which could include manslaughter, face up to 25 years in prison, according to the release.

Related: Australian wildfires

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As of this week, 22 civilians and three firefighters have been killed since massive wildfires began to rage through the states of New South Wales and Queensland in September. The University of Sydney also estimates that nearly half a billion animals have also died in the same period.

The fires appeared to slow down on Tuesday as much-needed rain and cooler weather were reported in parts of the country, though temperatures are expected to rise again in a few days.

The deadly wildfires have destroyed more than 15 million acres of land so far.

The New South Wales Police Force urged the public to share photos and videos of the fires, especially in their infancy, with police so they can investigate any potentially criminal activity.

Those failing to comply with a total fire ban face up to a year in prison and thousands of dollars in fines, the agency said. Anyone who light or use a tobacco product within 15 meters of any stack of hay corn or grain, any standing crop or dry grass could also face a fine.