Police are on the hunt for a firebug who lit 15 separate blazes in Wollongong overnight, including several at occupied homes.
The man left a trail of melted plastic and charred metal in his wake as he moved westward from Cliff Road Wollongong from about 1.15am, targeting property at public housing complexes, rubbish bins and one elderly man's mobility scooter.
Some of the fires were so close together that firefighters putting out one blaze had only to look up to see the next one a few metres down the road.
The most serious of the fires involved a mattress that was pushed up against the door of a couple's ground floor home at a public housing complex on Cliff Road.
A resident at the complex, Beckie, was among those who woke up to the sound of the fire and used garden hoses to start putting it out before firefighters arrived.
"I heard an explosion and didn't think much of it," said Beckie, of the 1.15am blaze.
"About 10 minutes later I heard the smoke alarm getting louder and louder.
"When I saw the fire, I ran down and got the hose.
"They [the firebug] ran out of here and tried to light a lounge up as well."
A 60-year-old man was treated for smoke inhalation at the complex and taken to hospital as a precaution.
Meantime, the firebug moved on to damage a fence on Wilson Street then set bins alight on Corrimal Street and on Queens Parade.
"Firefighters [on Corrimal Street] could see another fire down the road, just outside Cold Rock [Ice Creamery]," Fire and Rescue NSW's Wollongong duty commander Andrew Barber said.
A mobility scooter belonging to John Zonneveld, a 74-year-old resident of the John Curtin flats opposite WIN Entertainment Centre, had its seat set alight.
Mr Zonneveld and his wife Marilyn are unsure if the fire snuffed itself out, as the 11-month-old scooter suffered minimal damage.
Mrs Zonneveld said her husband was completely reliant on the scooter after having a hip replacement about five years ago.
"I just don't know what satisfaction they [the firestarter] could get from it," Mrs Zonneveld said. "We keep to ourselves, we get on with all our neighbours."
"We don't have a car any more. John can only walk about 50 metres before he had to stop."
A car full of personal belongings, parked outside the entertainment centre, was completely incinerated.
Firefighters next went to the underground carpark of a 36-unit public housing complex on Church Street, where a lounge was found on fire.
"This [is where it] is getting pretty serious," Insp Barber said.
"Crews went in wearing breathing apparatus. Lounges are very combustible. There's a lot of foam involved and they do produce a lot of smoke.
"Fortunately the sprinkler system kicked in and contained it pretty well."
Fire crews attended bin and tree fires on the corner of Church and West streets, Staff Street and Auburn Street.
Insp Barber said the number of fires kept firefighters occupied until about 4am.
"If we get a serious house fire elsewhere, it does create a bit of a drain - a bit of a vaccum. If our fire resources are already stretched, it could potentially cause a bit of a delay getting to another serious job."
Wollongong Police are investigating the fires, which they believe are linked.
Following initial inquires, police are wishing to speak with a man seen in the area and who they say may be able to assist with inquiries.
He is described as being of Caucasian appearance, aged 20-30, with short, light brown hair. At the time he was wearing a black hoodie, black trackpants, Nike shoes, a black t-shirt with red writing on the front and a white cap.
Anyone with information in relation to the fires is urged to contact Wollongong Police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
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