A New South Wales man has admitted to starting a fire to protect his secret cannabis crop after the fire spiralled out of control, burning for a total of three weeks.
The fire was lit on Guyra Road, near Ebor, back in November 2019. Just 24 hours later, on November 16th, 51-year-old Gavin James Gardiner was arrested. While Gardiner has admitted to starting the fire, he has not entered a plea, after being charged with ‘intentionally causing fire’ and ‘dishonesty for gain by damaging property by fire’.
If found guilty, he faces up to 21 years in prison.
Appearing in court last week, Gardiner admitted to deliberately starting the fire to protect his secret cannabis crop during bushfire season. Unfortunately, Gardiner’s attempt at protecting his cannabis had the opposite effect, as he lit the fire during a total fire ban. Throughout 2019, the New England area was suffering one of the worst droughts in known record. This meant that Gardiner’s cannabis became kindling to an out-of-control bushfire.
Although the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Victoria’s Country Fire Authority worked together to control the blaze, it ended up burning through over 22,800 hectares of land.
However, this case raises serious questions as to the handling of cannabis crops during NSW Police raids. In May alone, NSW police destroyed over $31.5 million of cannabis through burning. Although the RFS monitors each burn, these burns are carried out on the site of the raid – often in forests, and throughout bushfire season.
Although this may seem safe, these burns may present a bushfire risk. Australia’s cannabis industry is only growing, as the industry is set to reach $1.5 billion by 2024. Whether or not cannabis is legalised, it’s clear that cannabis crops in bushfire-prone areas are a serious risk to Australia’s environment. Perhaps it’s time we reassess that risk, and take measures to control cannabis through legalising it.