Australian authorities charge 24 people with deliberately lighting bushfires

BALMORAL, Australia (AP/Gray News) - Exhausted firefighters are racing to shore up defenses against Australia’s wildfires before scorching temperatures return in a few days.

Cooler weather was giving a reprieve as firefighters worked on containment lines and military personnel worked to evacuate and aid residents in burned or at-risk areas.

But after Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, the rain wasn’t enough to dampen fire risks.

The first hints of the financial toll from the disaster are emerging, with the Insurance Council of Australia saying the estimated damage bill had reached 700 million Australian dollars ($485 million).

The New South Wales Police Force announced Monday it has taken legal action against more than 180 people for bushfire-related offenses since Nov. 8, 2019.

Authorities have charged 24 with deliberately lighting bushfires. Another 53 are accused of failing to comply with a total fire ban, while 47 are accused of discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.

Some of the penalties related to bushfires are up to 25 years imprisonment.

Australia: Smoke in Canberra as fires rage

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc. contributed to the report.