September 10, 2019 / 3:04 AM / 10 days ago

Australians flee homes as police investigate suspicious fires

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A 12-year-old boy started a bushfire and two teenage girls were questioned over another blaze in Australia’s Queensland state, police said on Tuesday as forest fires forced hundreds of people to flee their homes in the country’s east.

Strong winds have fanned some 140 bushfires in northern Queensland and neighboring New South Wales state this week, with flames ravaging thousands of hectares of land.

At least eight of the fires are suspicious, Queensland Police Commissioner Katrina Carroll told reporters, and police said they had questioned three children over blazes.

The 12-year-old boy was questioned after a group of teenagers were found on Monday in bushland near a skate park in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital.

The boy deliberately lit a fire which spread to a nearby storage facility, destroying a fence, two shipping containers and their contents, police said.

The boy was processed through the state’s juvenile legal system, which meant he was released with a caution, a police spokeswoman told Reuters.

Police were questioning two 14-year-old girls over a fire in bushland near the Gold Coast, the spokeswoman said.

“Some of the fires have involved children playing and obviously the consequences are dire as a result of that and ... some of them have been purposeful and malicious,” Carroll said.

“People can die. Buildings and residences are being destroyed,” she added.

In Queensland alone, low humidity levels, high winds and dry vegetation have fueled 85 fires that have destroyed or damaged 84 houses across the state, fire service officials said.

There were more than 400 people in evacuation centers, acting Queensland premier Jackie Trad told reporters, adding there were no casualties.

Slideshow (5 Images)

“Apart from Sunshine Coast, we are still seeing fires right throughout the state,” she said.

In New South Wales, firefighters were battling about 55 fires and five properties had been confirmed destroyed, the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Monday.

Bushfires have started earlier than normal in the southern hemisphere spring. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said winds would intensify throughout the day on Tuesday, but fire threats should abate on Wednesday.

Reporting by Paulina Duran; additional reporting and writing by Byron Kaye; editing by Himani Sarkar and Darren Schuettler

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