A former volunteer firefighter has pleaded guilty to setting his car on fire to make a fraudulent insurance claim and causing a bushfire in Creswick.
The fire that cost the CFA almost $100,000 to extinguish continued to spread over the next 12 to 15 hours burning about five acres of bushland in the Creswick Pine Plantation, the court heard.
The Courier can now name the man as James Kilroy, 34, of Dean after a suppression order was lifted on Wednesday in the Ballarat Magistrates Court.
A police summary presented to the court on Tuesday reveals Kilroy arrived at a Creswick property at 9.15pm on November 10, 2018 to pick up a friend and drive him to a party in Ballarat.
Kilroy requested the witness, who was a young CFA volunteer he had a mentor-type relationship with, to follow him in his vehicle.
The witness followed Kilroy who drove to the Creswick Pine Plantation on Railway Road, but was unable to drive any further as the road was not suitable for his car.
It could well have been a lot nastier than that.Senior Constable Giles Brown, police prosecutor
The witness got out of the car and was 300 metres away when he saw the accused push his red Ford Ranger Ute down a hill where it came to rest on a tree on the verge of bushland.
The witness saw the accused douse the car in petrol and arrived at the vehicle when the accused was bent over with a cigarette lighter and asked what he was doing.
The accused did not reply and lit the car on fire with the lighter, causing the fire to flare up and strike the witness with flames.
The witness received burns to his wrist, waist and face and his beard was singed.
The witness asked the accused to drive him to hospital and he was admitted to Ballarat Base Hospital overnight.
The accused's car was engulfed and destroyed by fire and the fire continued to spread over the next 12 to 15 hours burning about five acres of bushland in the Creswick Pine Plantation.
About 8.30am the next day the accused reported to police his car had been stolen from outside a Creswick address.
He dishonestly made an insurance claim relating to the theft of the car and the criminal damage by fire in an attempt to be paid out by the insurance company.
The valuation of the claim was $48,000, but no money has been paid out.
The accused was arrested and interviewed on March 2, 2019 and denied any involvement in the incident.
He was charged with attempting to obtain property by deception by making a fraudulent insurance claim, making a false report to police and recklessly causing a fire in vegetation.
The accused was also charged with arson and lighting a vehicle on fire using an accelerant, placing a person in danger of serious injury.
Defence barrister Lucy Dawson said the accused worked full time and his current and previous employer had provided good character references to the court.
She said the accused was a volunteer with CFA prior to the offending.
She said the accused said he did not think about the consequences to his team in terms of dealing with the fire but also dealing with the fact it was a CFA member who lit the fire.
"He is no longer welcome at the CFA which has been significant for him," she said.
The court heard the accused had experienced anxiety since he was in an accident on a farm he worked at.
Ms Dawson said Kilroy had experienced anxiety throughout the legal proceedings and had separated from his wife.
She said he had not committed further offences and had excellent prospects of rehabilitation.
Ms Dawson submitted Kilroy should be sentenced to a community corrections order.
"Having regard to his background and prospects, imprisonment is not necessary in this case to address the aims of sentencing," she said.
Ms Dawson explained the man who was injured in the fire was a young CFA member who the accused acted as a 'father figure' and 'mentor' to.
The court heard the car that was set alight was subject to finance and the accused was still paying off the car monthly.
Police prosecutor Senior Constable Giles Brown said the accused created a risk to other people in the area when he set the car alight, causing the bushfire.
"It could well have been a lot nastier than that," he said.
The court heard the CFA had made an $88,000 compensation application, which was the cost to attend the fire on the night.
Victoria Police also made a restitution application for investigative costs.
Magistrate Letizia Torres said the matter was serious and had a number of concerning aspects, including the fact the accused was with a young person at the time.
"It is unfortunate he exposed a young man to this offending, both in the injury and the example he set," she said.
She said she also took into account the damage caused by the fire and the 'greedy' aspect of the insurance claim.
The accused will be assessed for a community corrections order, but Ms Torres said she needed more time to consider sentencing.
Defence and prosecution will make further written submissions and the accused will return to court in June for sentencing.
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