Ricky Ballard-Lestrange lit bushfires because child in car likes fire trucks, court told

Ricky Kenneth Ballard-Lestrange is accused of starting fires in Nabiac on Friday. Photo: Facebook

Ricky Kenneth Ballard-Lestrange is accused of starting fires in Nabiac on Friday. Photo: Facebook

A former firefighter, accused of lighting two bushfires within a few kilometres of his home on the NSW Mid North Coast during Sunday's heatwave, admitted he knew the blazes would "go stupid" and could even put his property in danger, but lit them anyway because a child who was with him "likes fire trucks", a court has heard.

Ricky Kenneth Ballard-Lestrange, 32, was refused bail in Taree Local Court on Monday.​

The court heard a friend had taken a photograph of the accused's dashboard minutes before he allegedly lit the two blazes near Nabiac. The image depicted a temperature gauge reading 47.5 degrees.

Cattle escape a grass fire burning towards the small township of Wollar in the greater Hunter region. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Cattle escape a grass fire burning towards the small township of Wollar in the greater Hunter region. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Mr Ballard-Lestrange, a former Rural Fire Service volunteer who spent five years in the organisation until resigning in 2007, was one of three males, including a 13-year-old boy, who were charged with lighting fires despite the warnings of horrendous conditions.

The charges attracted the wrath of RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who slammed the alleged offenders for the "heinous crimes".

"How dare they," he said.

"You put the lives of our firefighters at risk. How dare anybody add to the extraordinary conditions we're experiencing."

The Sir Ivan bushfire, near Dunedoo, on Sunday.  Photo: NSWRFS

The Sir Ivan bushfire, near Dunedoo, on Sunday. Photo: NSWRFS

The court heard Mr Ballard-Lestrange had two young children with him when he drove along Dargavilles Road, near Dyers Crossing, and stopped to allow one of the children to go to the toilet while the suspected firebug smoked a cigarette.

It was then he decided to use a lighter to ignite some grass and leaves.

Police documents tendered in court alleged Mr Ballard-Lestrange had driven four kilometres along the rural road before stopping near a turf farm and using the lighter to spark another blaze.

A witness allegedly saw a man leave the area before seeing flames and smoke billowing from the bush about 3.30pm.

Fire crews were able to extinguish both blazes before they took hold.

One fire burnt about two hectares of bush and grass and the other approximately one hectare.

Mr Ballard-Lestrange was arrested about 30 minutes later and allegedly admitted, in an interview with police, to starting both fires. He said that one of two children who were with him at the time "likes fire trucks".

"The accused stated he was aware that given the high temperature, low humidity and dry grass that the fire would spread rapidly, would 'go stupid' and be difficult to control," the police statement alleged.

"The accused stated that, at worst, his house, which is located four kilometres in a direct line from the second fire could have burnt down, along with other rural properties between his house and the fire.

"Police submit that, given the prevailing fire weather, the accused person's knowledge of fire and how it spreads, along with his admissions as to the potential for property damage, his actions are at the higher end of objective seriousness regarding [the] offences charged."

Manning-Great Lakes detectives charged Mr Ballard-Lestrange with two counts of intentionally causing fire and being reckless as to its spread, a charge that carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.

He was refused bail on Monday and will reappear in Taree Local Court on February 21. 

The Newcastle Herald

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