A man found guilty of setting a series of fires in Nelson forests has been sentenced to seven years jail.
Colin Geoffrey Hayball, 72, was found guilty by a jury in August on five counts of arson relating to fires in forestry blocks near Tapawera between February and April last year.
At his trial a fire investigator said a sequence of fires lit at one scene in March suggested the arsonist was trying to block accessways, trapping firefighters. Investigators said the fires had been lit using homemade incendiary devices.
At Hayball’s sentencing in the High Court at Nelson today, Justice Simon France concluded that Hayball had not deliberately acted to trap firefighters.
But the way he had set the fire-starting devices created a ‘‘serious danger’’ to those fighting them because of the potential to trap them, the judge said.
He sentenced Hayball – who had lived alone in the Tutaki valley near Murchison in a house without electricity – to a total of seven years and six months in prison.
Outside court, police praised the efforts of the Waimea Rural Fire Authority for its part in the successful prosecution.
Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne McCoy said the co-operation received from firefighters and the way the fires were managed was crucial to police being able to gather the evidence required.
‘‘This individual's actions put the lives of the firefighters at risk and placed them under enormous pressure,’’ he said.
‘‘These fires also had the potential to impact significantly on both the forestry industry in Nelson and on the wider economy.’’
Detective Senior Sergeant McCoy also praised the co-operation of local landowners.
He said the firearms, ammunition cache and drugs found in Hayball's possession compounded his risk to the community and it was entirely appropriate that he served a term of imprisonment.
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