CANBERRA • A bush fire that destroyed up to 30 homes in eastern Australia may have been deliberately started, a state police minister said yesterday.
Police are now treating the out-of-control bushfire that ripped through the rural village of Rappville in northern New South Wales (NSW) as suspicious, NSW Police said in a statement.
"It really is a bastard act if you are going to put your own community at risk," NSW Police Minister David Elliott told reporters in Sydney.
NSW Rural Fire Service said the blaze started last Friday night in the Busbys Flat area and it was "potentially deliberately lit".
"Our investigations have come back that there was something suspicious that has happened in that area," a spokesman told reporters yesterday.
As many as 30 houses were destroyed in the fire which also affected several other rural townships, including Coombell, Main Camp and Myrtle Creek. The temperature in the area was above 40 deg C on Tuesday.
The combined fire has already destroyed more than 90,000 hectares of land.
Residents were forced to spend the night in evacuation centres. "I've lost the sheds, the house, lost everything," Rappville resident Danny Smith told reporters.
Some residents suffered burns and breathing difficulties, but there have been no casualties reported.
Police said a number of people remain unaccounted for in and around the area.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: "I'm simply horrified and shocked that anyone would think it's smart to be lighting any of these fires. I hope that's not the case."