A massive black smoke plume that was visible over much of the Illawarra on Tuesday morning has been blamed on a fire that took hold in a backyard at Koonawarra.
Flames went through a pile of rubbish and motorbike parts before climbing 10 metres up two tree trunks, about 8.30am Tuesday.
The blaze has created tension between Illabunda Crescent resident Ian Carey and neighbours whose fences were badly damaged in the fire - the second of a similar nature in Mr Carey's backyard in about the past year.
Mr Carey told the Mercury he was at a supermarket when the fire began. He said he arrived home to find his backyard alight and he did not know how the fire could have started.
"By the time I drove down to Woolworths and got to do the shopping, the plastics were alight and the tyres were starting to burn, the tree was going up," he said.
"I sent my younger son around to see [a neighbour] to make sure they were up and protecting their yard.
"There was nothing I could do. None of my hoses would reach it.
"It was deliberately lit, for sure."
Mr Carey acknowledged his yard was overcrowded with objects, some of them of value, some not.
"I inherited a third of a motorbike wrecking yard, so that's where all my motorbike stuff comes from," he said.
"The other stuff's my building products and the rubbish I have from people that have stayed here."
A boat Mr Carey was minding for a friend was destroyed in the blaze.
Mr Carey said he had been trying to get rid of a lot of the items that had fuelled the fire.
"A lot of it was rubbish, but I can't afford the tip fees," he said. "I'm not going to be dumping it around the streets, so I've just got to [dispose of] a little bit at a time, and try and get rid of it that way."
"I;m a full-time dad. I've asked the Housing Commission and DOCS to go halves in a skip bin so I can get rid of it for everyone's safety. It's started to become a bit of a problem because there were rats as well getting in there, so I can undertand why the neighbours were upset with me."
A neighbour, Corey Douglas, was sleeping when the fire incinerated part of his back fence.
"I woke up to my nan banging on my door. She said something about a fire. I jumped up, looked out the window and saw a massive fire out the backyard. The flames were easily halfway up the tree there."
Fire and Rescue NSW's acting Dapto station officer Tim Lyons said the fire created an unexpected spectacle as fire crews made their way to the scene.
"It was amazing. We were quite surprised to see it because we got called to just a tree fire. We saw it on the way and thought, 'that doesn't look like a tree fire'," he said.
The black smoke is believed to have been mostly generated by fibreglass motorcycle parts.
Mr Lyons said the fire had been extinguished quickly using water and foam. He said it was not possible to determine what caused the fire.
"Due to the level of destruction there is no way of knowing," he said.
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