(Meredith) - Two dozen people are facing charges for deliberately setting blazes in Australia during the country's devastating wildfire season.

Since early November, the New South Wales Police Force has arrested 24 people for deliberately setting bushfires. This offense can result in up to 21 years imprisonment, according to the agency.

In addition to those charged with starting fires intentionally, police have taken legal action against another 159 people for bushfire-related offenses. Among them are 52 people who allegedly did not comply with the state's fire ban and 43 people accused of discarding a lit cigarette or match on land.

Legal action can range "from cautions through to criminal charges," according to the NSW Police Force. 

Australia Wildfires

In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, aerial photo, wildfires rage under plumes of smoke in Bairnsdale, Australia. Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. 

Authorities are still investigating the cause, origin and overall impact of the fires, many of which are still ravaging the country. 

"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," the NSW Police Force said in a statement. 

Australia's wildfires have been raging since September, months earlier than is typical for the country's annual wildfire season. So far, the blazes have killed 25 people, destroyed 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.

The fires have also taken a devastating toll on the country's wildlife. Ecologists believe hundreds of millions of animals have been killed in the blazes, along with thousands of livestock.

Across New South Wales, 130 fires were still burning on Tuesday, around 50 of which were uncontrolled. 

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved.

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