A young man claims he was trying to "put out" a fire in Balgownie bushland, not flare it just metres away from a major rescue operation to free a paraglider stuck in a tree, a court has heard.
Jakeb Eaton has pleaded not guilty in Wollongong Local Court to setting a fire and recklessly causing a fire to spread during the incident on November 13 last year.
Firefighters were called to the bushland near Doonan Place to extinguish a blaze that was about five metres by five metres wide and had flames of about one-metre high.
Police officers who were assisting with the paraglider rescue, smelt smoke about 5.30pm, went to investigate and arrested Eaton on suspicion of arson, when he was found at the scene of the fire.
A bike was also seized and Eaton's phone was taken for examination.
Police body-worn footage of the arrest was played to the court during Eaton's hearing in front of Magistrate Susan McGowan on Friday.
"I'm trying to put it out ... I live up the street," Eaton told officers.
"I seen the smoke from all the way up there and was trying to put it out."
When an officer asked him what he was using to put it out he said, "my feet and my socks. I got burnt".
"That's why I was standing there," he said. "I haven't got a lighter on me or nothing."
However, Sergeant Andrew Sharp told the court he saw Eaton standing close to the fire, facing it and was using a long stick to "stoke the fire".
"He was moving the leaf litter around, moving the fuel to different places, that's what is appeared to me," he said.
Sgt Sharp was assisting with the rescue of the paraglider when he smelt smoke.
After further investigations from other officers, Sgt Sharp proceeded down a trail and came across the fire, which was well alight.
He said he ran at Eaton telling him to "get on the ground" and arrested him.
Eaton's defence lawyer Patrick Schmidt asked Sgt Sharp why he had arrested his client.
"I was worried he would try and run from the fire," Sgt Sharp said.
"I told him I was placing him under arrest on suspicion of arson."
Sgt Sharp said he was aware a fire had been lit in a similar location the day before, where a bike was seen nearby.
He said he was prompted to arrest Eaton after he saw the bike, Eaton "poking the fire" and that he was oblivious to police approaching.
When asked if he considered if Eaton was attempting to put out the fire, Sgt Sharp said he suspected Eaton may have lit the fire and therefore took him into custody so further investigations could be carried out.
"From the actions I saw, I did not believe they were consistent with putting out a bushfire," Sgt Sharp told the court.
A nearby resident, Craig Roser, who called Triple-0, told the court he was walking in the bush when he came across the fire and Eaton standing nearby tapping the flames with his foot.
Mr Roser told the court he asked Eaton if he lit it, to which he replied "no I'm trying to put it out. I'm sick of people lighting fires".
Under cross-examination, the officer in charge, Detective Senior Constable Dylan Liakman, said police did not have to prove Eaton lit the fire, "just that he had intent to fan the fire".
The court also heard Eaton did not call Triple-0 but messaged a friend about the fire while it was still alight.
The hearing was adjourned to June 25.
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