'Fire bug' arrests as blazes sweep Australian forests

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The Independent Online

Three teenaged boys and two men were arrested for allegedly starting a number of the Australian bushfires which are sweeping through New South Wales and encircling Sydney.

Three teenaged boys and two men were arrested for allegedly starting a number of the Australian bushfires which are sweeping through New South Wales and encircling Sydney.

More than 4,400 people have been evacuated and at least 150 homes and thousands of acres of forest and farmland have been damaged by more than 100 fires, many of which have apparently been lit deliberately.

A blanket of thick white and brown haze hung over Sydney today, where dozens of fires burned around its northern, southern and western perimeter.

Thousands of animals, including birds, koalas and kangaroos, have probably died, wildlife officials said.

Outback gales that have fanned the flames for the past week eased today. However, firefighters in the bush warned it would only be a short respite.

Helicopters dropped water on hotspots and more than 15,000 firefighters, most of them volunteers, have been deployed. Emergency controllers are using satellite imaging and infrared technology to map the fires' onslaught.

"With the majority of fire uncontained and very little prospect of containment in the immediate future, we are looking at four very difficult days," said Rural Fire Services Commissioner Phil Koperberg. "I do urge a very high level of calm during the next four or five days."

He called on residents in areas near forests to prepare for the worst, saying people should dress so their hands and heads are protected and should stay inside their homes. Authorities also asked residents in inner Sydney to use water sparingly after firefighters had trouble with water pressure while battling the infernos.

One of the worst–affected regions is the Blue Mountains, a spectacular and rugged national park area that is punctuated by small towns linked by narrow and twisting roads.



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