For months now, devastating wildfires have ripped through the coastal region of New South Wales, Australia, killing large populations of local wildlife and destroying their habitat. The story took another tragic turn this week, as three 12-year-old boys were caught deliberately setting fire to sensitive regions, adding to the already unprecedented fires that have consumed the area.
The young boys were charged under the Young Offenders Act for the crime of deliberately lighting bushfires, and will be required to go to a youth conference, which is an extremely light sentence considering the offense, but their young age makes it very difficult to prosecute them with any serious penalties.
Lake Illawarra Police District Inspector Brian Pedersen said there has been a strange trend of young and immature boys intentionally setting fires in the midst of the current environmental disaster. The inspector has issued a warning, urging the whole community to be vigilant and report any suspicious behavior to authorities.
Fires in the region north of Batemans Bay have expanded to burn through more than 11,560 hectares. The fire is still burning and spreading eastward quickly. Firefighters as far as Sydney were on high alert this week after a series of cold fronts swept across the state, threatening to spread the blaze further.
Since the fires began back in July, over two million hectares of land have been burned, in what many residents in the area are calling the most challenging bushfire season ever. Experts estimate that more than 7000 fires have started across New South Wales alone in since July. There is a minimum of 150 fires currently burning in the area right now.
At least 6 lives have been lost in the devastation thus far, with 673 homes being destroyed and 1400 other buildings lost. Officials in the state have issued a total fire ban this week, for the far north coast, Greater Hunter and New England regions.
In addition to the dangers from the fires, air quality across much of Australia has been impacted. In southwest Sydney, air quality has been declared hazardous.
As we reported last week, the fires in New South Wales could be responsible for wiping out all of the koalas in the region, who were already experiencing dangerously low population levels.
Deborah Tabart OAM, chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, estimates that over 1000 koalas in Australia have been killed in the last two months from deforestation and bushfires, according to AU News.
Across the whole continent of Australia, the total number of koalas is estimated to be anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000.
James Tremain of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, says that koalas are in danger of becoming extinct within our lifetime.
Tabart told reporters that koalas are already “functionally extinct” in NSW, because their population numbers are so low that mating and reproduction will be nearly impossible for the remaining members of the species. In order for koalas to remain a presence in NSW for years to come, human intervention will likely be necessary, otherwise, there is very little chance that they will survive in the region.