MORE than 180 Australians have been arrested for arson as ferocious bushfires leave 26 dead and destroy over 1,500 homes.
Australia is fighting an unprecedented bushfire season, which have been caused by record temperatures and widespread drought.
Many have blamed the fires on climate change but new shocking figures have revealed cops in the country have arrested 183 people suspected of starting fires in the wild.
A total of 101 people have been arrested in Queensland, 24 in New South Wales, 43 in Victoria, five in Tasmania and 10 in South Australia.
Almost 2,000 houses have already been destroyed in the bushfire crisis, officials say.
Temperatures soared last week, leaving Sydney the hottest place in the world at 50C.
Twenty six people and millions of animals have already died since September.
The new arrest figures have sparked a row over the cause of the deadly bushfire crisis, with some saying climate change has been overstated.
Liberal MP Craig Kelly claimed that “arson is not caused by climate change”.
Good Morning Britain weather presenter Laura Tobin has hit back at Kelly after he branded her an “ignorant Pommy weather girl” over her reporting of the country’s bushfires.
The meteorologist became embroiled in a row with outspoken Kelly after she took him on during a GMB debate on climate change and the wildfires yesterday.
Ms Tobin was left stunned after Mr Kelly took to Facebook to slam her after the debate.
He wrote: “Oh no! Ignorant pommy weather girl calls me a ‘climate change denier’.”
The claims of arson have already become the course of political jousting, with some using them to claims climate change is not the only factor.
US conservative talk show host Todd Starnes also leaped on the arson arrests to make a similar argument.
He said: “It turns out – climate change has nothing to do with the humanitarian crisis unfolding Down Under.”
More than 180 people have been arrested accused of deliberately lighting bushfires since the start of the horror season.
In New South Wales alone, where at least nine people have died since October, 29 deliberate blazes were set.
Cops have charged 24 people across the state while a further 159 have been charged or cautioned over lesser fire offences.
Bot and troll accounts have reportedly been blamed for a “disinformation campaign” exaggerating the role of arson.
Social media analysis has found bushfires accompanied by repeated suggestions of an arson epidemic or “arson emergency”.
The false claims are, in some cases, used to undermine the link between the current bushfires and the longer, more intense fire seasons brought about by climate change, the Guardian reports.
A spokesman for News South Wales Police said: “Investigations into the cause, origin and overall impact of fires are continuing and since the latest State of Emergency was declared, Strike Force Tronto has provided expertise to six police area commands and eight police districts.
“As inquiries continue, police are appealing to the community to provide footage and/or images from phones, dashcam, or other devices, that show any of the fires in their infancy, even if only from a distance.”
Police in the state have taken legal action against a 159 people.
Among them are 53 people who allegedly failed to comply with a total fire ban and 47 people who threw away a lit cigarette.
We told today how the young daughter of a firefighter killed battling the Australia fires wore her father’s helmet on her head as she refused to leave his coffin’s side.
The heart breaking scenes came just moments after one-year-old Charlotte O’Dwyer accepted the service medal which was posthumously awarded to her father, Andrew O’Dwyer, following his death just before Christmas.
Wearing a white dress with her hair in pigtails, Charlotte at one stage touched her father’s casket before wandering up to the pulpit.
The young girl, described as her father’s greatest achievement, brought a much needed smile to the face of mourners as she lay under Mr O’Dwyer’s casket and ate from a bag of chips.
Mr O’Dwyer, 36, died in December when his fire truck rolled while battling the large Green Wattle Creek blaze in the NSW town of Buxton.
The brigade’s deputy captain Geoffrey Keaton, who like Mr O’Dwyer was a father-of-one, also died in the tragic crash and was remembered at a separate service last week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, state Emergency Services Minister David Elliott and federal Labor MP Chris Bowen were among the hundreds of mourners, who filled the church as tributes flowed for the young father.
Firefighters formed a guard of honour as Mr O’Dwyer’s casket was carried into the church with some saluting and others putting their hand on their heart.