A man has been arrested after allegedly lighting 80 fires across the Northern Territory, threatening homes and destroying property and bushland.
NT Police and fire services suspect a number of blazes across the territory since May were deliberately lit, and on Thursday arrested a 37-year-old man at a home south of Darwin.
“Some of these fires were significant and did result in damage to property, but also … lots of bushland,” Deputy Chief Fire Officer Josh Fischer told reporters on Friday.
“(They) caused disruptions to traffic and roads … (and) obviously resulted in fire and rescue service providing additional firefighting resources.”
The man has been charged with 18 counts of causing a fire and is set to face court later this month.
Police are investigating his possible link to another 62 fires.
The man is not accused of starting the Barkly Complex blaze, a fire five times the size of the ACT that threatened the town of Tennant Creek last week.
The massive blaze, which continues to burn, started as two fires that merged into a mega-fire, and NT police confirmed on Friday they were not deliberately lit.
“One fire resulted from an escaped cooking fire and the second fire started alongside the road as a result of a tyre failure,” Mr Fischer said.
The NT is bracing for one of its worst fire seasons in recent years, with hotter and drier conditions fuelling blazes.
Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said the intentional lighting of fires was pulling resources away from naturally occurring blazes.
“You will get caught, you’re putting people’s lives at risk by starting these blazes and it’s unacceptable,” she said on Friday.
The man was not known to police and was believed to be working alone.
A total fire ban for vast swathes of the territory stretching from Kalkarindji to Tennant Creek was issued until midnight on Friday.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned the fire danger threat is expected to deepen on Friday.
“Warm and dry with moderate to fresh and gusty east to southeasterly winds combined with high grass fuel loads will result in elevated fire dangers in the Gregory South East and Barkly North fire weather districts,” the bureau said.
Authorities are bracing for wind gusts of up to 55km/h and warnings are in place for fires burning on multiple fronts at Tennant Creek, Epenarra on the Tablelands and the Gregory National Park at Kalkarindji.
Campgrounds in the Gregory National Park remain closed.
Hot and dry conditions are forecast for vast parts of central Australia heading into the bushfire season after the Bureau of Meteorology officially declared an El Nino weather event.