Australian police have charged more than 180 people in New South Wales for fire-related offences in the past couple of months as bush fires continue to rage across the state.
New South Wales is a "tinder-box situation" and anyone who is caught putting the community at risk — whether they meant to or not — will be put before the courts, warned the state's police minister.
David Elliott said that residents would have to be from "Mars in a bubble" not to realise how dangerous it was to break the current total fire ban.
He said there's one "unfortunate repeat offence" when it comes to arson, that police have had to deal with time and again — motorists tossing cigarettes out of windows.
"In my mind, anybody that lights a fire either necessarily or unnecessarily against the total fire ban is putting the community at risk and that needs to be pulled up, called out and in many cases, it be put before the court," he said.
NSW police says officers have taken legal action against 183 people for more than 200 bushfire-related offences since November last year.
Out of those, 24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires.
Fifty-three people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban.
Forty-seven people have had legal actions for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.
NSW police commissioner Gary Worboys said police would take action.
"We have police both in plain clothes and uniform, specialist police, right up and down the south coast, night and day, looking around these areas, not just where homes are but where people have been evacuated, looking at suspicious behaviour, looking for the community to make reports of that behaviour," he said.
He said it was dreadful time for so many people to then have to deal with this.
"It's disgusting behaviour, behaviour that we won't tolerate, simply because the community will not tolerate it either," he said.
"I can't stress enough that if people see anything of a suspicious nature they ring Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
"If there is a crime being committed at the minute, they should ring the emergency number and I guarantee police will respond. Every single report that we get we will investigate."
Here are some of the sentences you can cop for bushfire-related crimes in New South Wales.
• Starting a bushfire and being reckless as to its spread – up to 21 years imprisonment.
• Lighting a fire when a total fire ban is in place – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a A$5500 fine.
• Not putting out a fire that you have lit – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a A$5500 fine.
• Failing to comply with a bush fire hazard reduction notice – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a A$5500 fine.
• Light or use a tobacco product within 15 metres of any stack of grain, hay corn, straw or any standing crop, dry grass or stubble field – up to a A$5500 fine.