Police have appealed for members of the public to remain vigilant after a spate of recklessly or deliberately lit fires over the past few months.
"What we're urging the public to do over the next week is to be the eyes and ears of the NSW Police," Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said at a press
conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Firefighters at Gospers Mountain, one of the worst fires in the state on Tuesday. CREDIT:DEAN SEWELL
"We've reacted to numerous pieces of information, and those, at times have resulted in the arrest of individuals who had an intention - or did - light
a fire in a dangerous bushfire period."
Since August this year, legal action - ranging from cautions to criminal charges - has been taken against 54 people for 69 bushfire-related offences.
Those range from offences punishable by fines, for example, for lighting an open fire, right up to offences carrying jail terms of up to 21 years, for
example, for lighting fires that may endanger lives or property.
"Information provided to police from members of the public can help identify and apprehend an arsonist and could help the police to prevent bushfire arson
occurring," Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
Nineteen special investigators in the arson unit specialising in wildfires, and another 40 receiving training, have worked with 1500 investigators across
NSW to assists four local area commands and 12 police districts so far.
These span from as south as Riverina Police Department to the northern edges of NSW.
Total fire bans will in place in 11 of the state's 21 fire areas on Thursday, mostly in the southern parts of the state, with many areas tipped to exceed
their average temperatures for this time of year by double digits.
All of Australia's mainland states and the North Territory reached 40 degrees on Wednesday as a huge mass of hot air set November heatwaves at a range
of South Australian sites. Temperatures of 40 degrees across the states have occurred earlier in the season, with October 12, 2004, the earliest on
record, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Meanwhile, NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay used question time on Wednesday to claim the government's cuts to the National Parks budget had created a "shocking
staff shortfall", undermining the ability of crews to conduct important hazard-reduction burning.
Ms McKay said leaked internal documents reveal as many as 115 frontline firefighting vacancies in the national parks, including 13 in the greater Sydney
region and 29 in the southern ranges.
"For the government to slash funding and jobs to such a critical service is bad enough, but now to leave so many crucial positions vacant is absolutely
disgraceful," she said.
The Australian Workers Union also weighed in, saying about 25 firefighting units were "missing in action" during the current bout of bushfires because
of unfilled vacancies.
"This is stretching our ability to keep people safe. Not filling empty posts is just criminal," said Garth Toner, a former parks employee now with the
Questions to the office of NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean were redirected to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which said
it has "a fit and prepared" firefighting workforce with adequate resources.
"The number of trained NPWS firefighters and the overall NPWS staff size has increased since 2011/12," a NPWS spokesperson said.
"In a large organisation, such as NPWS, there are always some vacancies. The organisation also adjusts over time to ensure that it is best able to meet