Claim: 183 arsonists were charged for starting bushfires in Australia, bushfires are primarily caused by people.

Fact: Only 24 people were charged for deliberately starting bushfires, which is fewer than in previous years. Bushfires in Australia are becoming more common due to climate change.

Verdict: False

New South Wales (NSW – an Eastern state of Australia) Police on Monday reported that 183 people had been charged with offenses related to a fire ban in areas vulnerable to bushfires. On Twitter, this report was taken out of context to mislead readers into thinking that all 183 charges were for deliberately starting bushfires. 

This bushfire season claimed 18 lives in NSW and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. The fake news began circulating after NSW Police tweeted a report listing action against 183 people for bushfire-related offences, Twitter users, including Donald Trump Jr. were quick to assume that 180 people were arrested for causing the bushfires. Some even called it an #arsonemergency.

The fact of the matter is, although NSW Police have taken action against 183 people, only 24 have been charged for deliberately lighting bushfires. The rest include those cautioned or criminally charged for failing to follow the fire ban and those who discarded lit cigarettes or matches on land. In fact, Vox has reported that disinformation about arson in Australia is being purposely spread by climate change deniers.

Similarly, false reports of arson contributing to the bushfires also started circulating on Twitter. However, the information seems to be an exaggeration of the current state in Australia. Rates of arson have steadily decreased in New South Wales over the past decade. They reduced on an average 3.9% per year. Meanwhile, conditions that result in bushfires, such as the level of heat and dryness, have significantly heightened with time. The State of the Climate Report published by the Australian government in 2018 shows how Australia’s average temperature has consistently risen over the past century. 

Factors such as the level of heat and dryness are closely linked with climate change, therefore it is clear the real #arsonemergency is the climate emergency.

Summary: Bushfires in Australia are caused by climate change, not arson.

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