A 20-year-old man has been charged after allegedly lighting a bushfire in a Balgownie trail just metres away from a major rescue operation to free a paraglider stuck in a tree.
Rescuers went to investigate bushland near Tucker Avenue after they smelled smoke nearby their operation.
Special operations ambulance officers, police rescuers and SES volunteers brought the fire, which was in a trail near Doonan Place, under control before a Balgownie Fire and Rescue brigade arrived to extinguish it.
The fire had burnt out about 150 square metres of bushland, in the space of minutes.
An Illawarra Police Rescue officer arrested the Balgownie man after he allegedly lit the fire and was seen fanning the flames.
A push bike was also seized at the scene and the man's mobile phone was also taken for forensic examination.
Ambulance NSW Illawarra Inspector Terry Morrow said the fire started when the 61-year-old paraglider and SES rescuers were still up in the tree.
"The fire was blowing smoke up towards us," he said.
"It hampered our chances of getting the man out of the tree, which we were quite concerned about at the time.
"We have dry conditions at the moment, bushfires all over the country, and to have someone deliberately light a fire especially when we are trying to rescue someone made us so fearful.
"The paraglider could have been up that tree for longer than we anticipated and if the fire had really taken hold then there would have been a dangerous situation.
"I'm unsure whether the young fellow even knew we were there."
Illawarra Police Rescue Sergeant Richard Walsh said the situation could have been "devastating".
The fire was started just metres away from another blaze, also believed to be deliberately lit, on Tuesday at the height of catastrophic fire conditions in the Illawarra.
It is unknown whether the young man arrested was the same one who is believed to have ignited the fire on Tuesday.
The man was taken to Wollongong Police Station where he was charged with cause or set fire to the property.
He was granted strict conditional bail to appear in Wollongong Local Court on December 3.