Suspect ‘sparked wildfire to protect secret cannabis crop’

An Australian man has been accused of starting a wildfire to protect his hidden crop of weed.

Cops allege James Gardiner, 51, intentionally started the blaze in bushland near Ebor in New South Wales to create a ‘backburn’ to clear the scrub close to his cultivation.

The fire has already burned 11,600 acres in New South Wales northern tablelands.

Detectives also claim he hoped to take advantage of work contracts to repair fire damage. Officers allege Gardiner made no attempt to stem the out-of-control conflagration.

The suspect appeared at Armidale Local Court on Monday morning, but did not enter pleas to charges of intentionally causing fire and being reckless as to its spread, reports the Northern Daily Leader.

Police allege Gardiner made no attempt to control the blaze

Gardiner was remanded in custody until the case can be referred to prosecutors in December.

Gardiner faces up to 21 years’ imprisonment if he is convicted.

The fire sparked an emergency warning when it spread rapidly as a result of the dry conditions.

Police and emergency services went door-to-door across the town to tell residents to evacuate as the fire raged last week.

Media reports state NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers and other firefighters protected Gardiner’s property when the fire spread towards it.

In September an Australian territory became the first in the nation to legalise recreational cannabis use.

Politicians in the Australian Capital Territory, which includes the capital city of Canberra, passed a bill allowing adults to possess up to 50 grams of the drug.