Two Australian teenagers were charged Wednesday in setting one of the dozens of destructive fires that have raged across the country’s eastern coast since last week as experts warned of potentially dire conditions ahead of this year’s bushfire season.
Police placed the 14-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl with a group of other juveniles in bushland where the fire in Peregian Springs, Queensland, was allegedly lit, Australia’s ABC News reported. The pair have been charged with endangering particular property by fire.
Dry and windy conditions helped the blaze sweep across the area, scorching swathes of bushland and triggering hundreds of evacuations, Sky News reported. The fire devoured one home and severely damaged another. Firefighters battled the blaze for two days before safely containing it.
The charges come after authorities set up a task force earlier this week to investigate at least eight fires that appeared intentionally lit. Investigators had reportedly questioned several teens and children regarding them.
The neighboring states of Queensland and New South Wales have endured more than 100 raging wildfires since Friday. More than 100 still burned across the regions on Thursday, with 320 firefighters battling at least 50 blazes in New South Wales, officials said.
At least 26 homes have been destroyed and 73 others damaged, with damages expected to rise once officials can check the fire-devastated areas, News.com.au reported. No deaths have been reported as at least 400 citizens evacuated to shelters in the region.
Experts are saying the early start to Australia’s bushfire season forecasts a worse than average fire risk across the country.
Researchers from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology wrote an article published in The Conversation saying record warm temperatures in Antarctica will leave Australia with higher than normal spring temperatures and less rain, an “apocalyptic” combination as bushfire season begins, according to News.com.au.
“Past stratospheric warming events and associated wind changes have had their strongest effects in NSW and southern Queensland, where springtime temperatures increased, rainfall decreased, and heatwaves and fire risk rose,” the meteorologists said.
Experts warn large portions of the country are already experiencing drought, with gusty and unusually warm and dry conditions leaving regions like a tinderbox as the Southern Hemisphere spring begins.