Australian bushfire was ‘started by man who wanted to protect cannabis crop’Posted by On

Wildfires have claimed the lives of four people and destroyed nearly 300 homes (Picture: Getty)

A man allegedly started a huge bushfire in Australia that destroyed more than 5,400 hectares in order to protect his marijuana plants.

Police arrested Gavin James Gardiner, 51, on Friday after he was accused of lighting a blaze in Northern Tablelands, in New South Wales, the previous day.

Officers confirmed Gardiner, who was denied bail, had been charged with intentionally causing a fire.

He was due in court on Monday.

A police statement said: ‘Police will allege in court that the man lit the fire as an attempt to back burn for the protection of a cannabis crop and perceived benefit from recovery work after the fire and made no attempt to control the blaze.’

The early arrival of dozens of fierce bushfires in the southern spring has already claimed four lives in New South Wales and destroyed 259 homes.

A New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service firefighter works to contain a bushfire (Picture: EPA)
Burnt property is seen at Possum Brush in the Mid North Coast region of NSW (Picture: AP)

Several people have been charged with intimidating Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers, including a man, 32, who is accused of threatening three volunteers with a chainsaw in Elands before he lit a fire.

The man is facing a common assault charge and appeared in court on Saturday after being refused bail.

Firefighters announced they had strengthened containment lines by back burning around the Gospers Mountain fire, which is blazing across more than 100,000 acres (156 square miles) near Sydney’s northwest outskirts.

Back burns are fires deliberately lit to clear dry undergrowth.

The NSW RFS said in a statement on social media: ‘This is important work which is being done ahead of worsening conditions next week.’

Conditions are expected to deteriorate this week as temperatures are set to rise and no rain is on the horizon.

Rural Fire Service personnel prepare to tackle a bushfire at Gospers Mountain (Picture: AAP)
Huge plumes of smoke billow from trees on fire in Gospers Mountain, New South Wales (Picture: AP)
Rural Fire Service firefighters work to contain a bushfire that spread from the Gospers Mountain fire (Picture: EPA)

Most national parks on the mid-to-north coast of the state, including in the northern Blue Mountains will remain closed until further notice as fire danger remains very high to severe, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage said on Twitter.

The bushfire season has begun earlier than usual, in the southern hemisphere spring, and is expected to be long and brutal this year as a three-year drought has left broad swathes of Australia’s east and west more susceptible to fire.

In Queensland, there were six major fires on Saturday morning.

‘Most of the state will experience high and very high conditions this weekend,’ Queensland Fire and Emergency Services added on Twitter.

‘Keep on keeping on – we’ll get through this together.’

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