Police in Australia have charged 24 people with deliberately lighting bushfires

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NEW SOUTH WALES, Australia — The New South Wales Police Force said it has taken legal action against more than 180 people for bushfire-related offenses since November.

The fires, fueled by drought and the country’s hottest and driest year on record, have been raging since September, months earlier than is typical for Australia’s annual wildfire season. So far, the blazes have killed 25 people, destroyed 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. Three people in New South Wales state who were reported missing earlier Tuesday were later found, police said.

Across New South Wales, 130 fires were still burning on Tuesday, around 50 of which were uncontrolled.

Police said that 24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires. More than 50 have had legal actions for failing to comply with a total fire ban and 47 have had legal actions for discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.

Investigators were asking people in the community to provide pictures or video that show any of the fires in the infancy, even if only from a distance.

The Insurance Council of Australia said the estimated damage bill had doubled in two days, with insurance claims reaching 700 million Australian dollars ($485 million).

The fires have exacted a grisly toll on the country’s wildlife, with carcasses of kangaroos littering the sides of roadways. Hundreds of millions of wild animals are believed to have been killed in the blazes, along with thousands of livestock.

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