By Geoff Spencer,|
The Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia As blazes burned wildly around Australia's largest city for a 10th day and thousands fled their homes today, police discovered the remains of what might have been two homemade bombs used by arsonists to set tinder-dry forests afire.
More than 100 bush fires raging out of control near Sydney and in its suburbs were being fanned by hot, dry and swirling winds. Smoke clouds towered above the city of 4 million people.
At Sussex Inlet, a coastal hamlet about 120 miles south of Sydney, about 5,000 residents and summer vacationers fled a massive firestorm that burned as many as 12 homes and damaged others. That brought to almost 160 the number of houses lost since the "black Christmas" wildfire emergency began Christmas Eve.
At least half of the wildfires have been deliberately lit since the crisis started Christmas Eve. Police have arrested 21 arson suspects.
These include 14 juveniles, between 9 and 16 years old and characterized as troublemakers bored during a current summer-school vacation.
While adult offenders would face prison terms of up to 14 years, young firebugs would be made to confront burns victims and families who lost homes. They would work on rehabilitation projects for scorched forests.
As the hunt for more arsonists continued, police said they found the pieces of what appeared to be incendiary devices at two separate charred sites, including one where fierce flames threatened hundreds of homes, just 11 miles from downtown Sydney.
Many of fire-hit areas were burned by similar blazes in 1994, when four people were killed and scores of homes destroyed.