Separating Fact From Fiction: A Breakdown Of The Small Role Arson Played This Bushfire Season
10 daily has combed through the most recent facts and figures from state authorities to help cut through the hysteria about what has caused the majority of recent bushfires -- the short answer is that it's not arsonists.
Fire chiefs and scientists have pointed to the effects of climate change to explain the supercharging speed and ferocity of the bushfires -- showing how a changing climate has made fires easier to start and harder to stop.
Climate experts have outlined how lightning storms -- some caused by the very fires themselves, in rare pyrocumulonimbus cloud formations -- have been a source of ignition this season.
However, others have tried to pin some of the blame on arson or deliberately-lit fires.
Rejecting assertions from some politicians and environmentalists that Australia is experiencing a "climate emergency", others have claimed there is an "arson emergency".
Anthony Albanese Lashes Bushfire Conspiracy Theories Spread By 'Armchair' Critics
Viral online claims that hazard reduction burns have been blocked are "not true", Labor leader Anthony Albanese said, criticising conspiracy theorists laying blame for bushfires at the feet of environmental activists.
Other more extreme conspiracy theories -- decried by Labor leader Anthony Albanese -- include that the fires were deliberately lit to clear the way for rail lines, or encouraged by green activists.
The arson narrative has gone global, shared in recent days by prominent American conservatives, Infowars host Alex Jones, and even Donald Trump Jr -- son of the President of the United States.
"Truly Disgusting that people would do this!" he tweeted on Wednesday.
Trump Jr quoted one section of an Australian news story which claimed: "more than 180 alleged arsonists have been arrested since the start of the bushfire season."
The article claimed 43 people were charged in Victoria in 2019.
However, concerns have been raised that some arson statistics going viral on social media are incorrect or misleading.
In a statement to 10 daily, Victoria Police said the reported figures are not accurate -- they were for the 12 months to September 2019 -- and have little link to the recent fire emergency which escalated in December.
Statistics for the period from September to December 2019 won't be released until March.
In a statement on Thursday, Victoria Police said they would "like to clarify some figures that have been quoted by various media outlets".
Police said 43 offences were recorded in the 12 months to September 2019, but only 21 offences resulted in a charge, and just 12 people were actually charged.
There is currently no intelligence to indicate that the fires in East Gippsland and the North East have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behaviour, Victoria Police told 10 daily.
Lightning is suspected as a cause of many Victorian fires. Police added a fire at Euroa on January 4 -- which burnt "a large area of land" but no properties -- was being investigated and "being treated as suspicious."
In NSW, figures shared by police have also been misrepresented.
In a January 6 statement, police said 24 people had been charged over deliberately lit fires and 53 faced legal action after allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban. 47 more faced legal action over allegedly discarding a lit cigarette or match.
Police said "legal action" from cautions to criminal charges had been taken against 183 people, including children, but some have reported that figure as "183 arsonists".
This is despite, as outlined above, the vast majority of cases involving other issues such as lighting a campfire, using fireworks, or flicking cigarette butts.
One man at Wallacia, in Sydney's west, was fined after allegedly lighting a campfire to make a cup of tea in November.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Ben Shepherd said "a vast majority" of the large NSW fires were "a result of lightning storms".
He said a number of NSW fires were being treated as suspicious, but it was "quite easy" to figure out whether a fire was naturally or deliberately sparked.
"The majority of these fires have been a result of lightning, but I'm well aware that there are a number that we are treating as suspicious. Hopefully, we can find those who have been responsible and bring them before the courts," Shepherd told Sky.
"I wouldn't have the breakdown [of natural versus deliberate fires] but I can confidently say the majority of the larger fires we have been dealing with have been a result of fires coming out of remote areas as a result of dry lightning storms."
In Queensland, police told 10 daily just 10 per cent of reported bushfires since September were found to be deliberately or maliciously lit -- 114 out of 1068.
QLD Police have charged 109 people -- 36 adults and 73 juveniles -- with 180 offences. However, just as in NSW, these offences cover a range of issues, from deliberate fires to breaching fire bans, meaning not all of them are arson-related.