As Australia braces for a scorching summer wildfire season, firefighters are being forced to spy on their own ranks amid suspicions one-in-five bushfires are lit by firefighters.
Firebug suspects have been listed by police in New South Wales state, where wildfires have already destroyed homes during an unexpectedly hot early spring in which temperatures are already touching 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
The size of the state’s 70,000-strong, mostly-volunteer, bushfire fighting service made checking the criminal records of all personnel almost impossible, police said.
But state bushfire chief Phil Koperberg said commanders were watching up to 30 suspects for certain telltale signs.
"You are not supposed to like going out firefighting," Koperberg told Australian newspapers.
In 2003 bushfires destroyed more than 600 houses in the Australian capital Canberra, while "Ash Wednesday" fires in 1983 killed 75 people and left thousands homeless in the states of Victoria and South Australia.
|A rural bush firefighter tries to extinguish a fire that was headed towards homes in the northern Sydney suburb of Belrose January 1, 2006. As Australia braces for a scorching summer wildfire season, firefighters are being forced to spy on their own ranks amid suspicions one-in-five bushfires are lit by firefighters.|