Data obtained from phone towers has placed a man charged with lighting a bushfire at Clarendon “in the vicinity” of seven other ignition points in the Adelaide Hills on a day blazes raged uncontrolled, a court has heard.

Key points:

  • A 61-year-old Hallett Cove man today appeared in the Christies Beach Magistrates Court
  • He has been charged with lighting a bushfire at Clarendon in the Adelaide Hills
  • The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was denied home detention bail

A 61-year-old Hallett Cove man — who cannot be named for legal reasons — today appeared in the Christies Beach Magistrates Court, where he unsuccessfully applied for home detention bail.

He has been charged with lighting a bushfire at Clarendon on January 24 — the same day a fire at Cherry Gardens destroyed two homes and burnt more than 2,500 hectares of bushland.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Kevin Dollard opposed bail, saying there would be a “substantial risk to the community”, given it was still summer.

He told Magistrate Lynette Duncan that police saw a white car on Piggott Range Road, at Clarendon, about 6:00pm as multiple bushfires swept across the Adelaide Hills.

“The vehicle caught police’s attention because it was parked in what was deemed to be an unusual position,” Sergeant Dollard said.

“As they approached, they saw the accused about 2 metres away from the passenger side of that vehicle in a dry, grassy area and he appeared to be hurrying to return to the driver’s side.

The Cherry Gardens fire blackened more than 2,500 hectares.(Supplied: CFS Promotions Unit)

Sergeant Dollard said the accused sped off and was overtaking other cars on Piggott Range and Cox Hill roads at Onkaparinga Hills until he eventually stopped and spoke to police.

“He initially told police that he saw someone lighting a fire,” he told the court.

“Police asked him if he got the registration number and he said it was CHA-123, then he changed his mind to CHA-141.

“He made some comment about the bastard who lit it, [referring to him as] ‘the bloody idiot’ and motioned that he tried to stomp the fire out.

“[Police] found a cigarette lighter in his pocket.”

Sergeant Dollard told the court that the accused’s number plate had been “defaced” with black texta pen and that he had returned a blood alcohol concentration of 0.149 per cent.

Accused assaulted in custody, lawyer says

Sergeant Dollard told the court the evidence in relation to the accused lighting the fire rested heavily on the arresting police, “who observed the accused walking away from the fire ignition point moments after it took off”.

“Police are still tracking his movements prior to the fire,” he said.

“Police are investigating seven other ignition points that started fires that day in the area of Cherry Gardens, Dorset Vale, Bradbury and Kangarilla in the time leading up to the arrest of the accused.

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Flames and smoke rise above the Adelaide Hills.

The accused’s lawyer, Paul O’Connor, told the court that the case against his client was “circumstantial” because police had a “suspicion” that he was responsible for the Clarendon blaze.

“[He] has not been charged with causing any other fires that day. He wasn’t seen lighting the fire,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said his client would not be back before the court until September and it was a long time to be in custody for someone arrested “based on a suspicion”.

He said the accused had also been assaulted in the Adelaide Remand Centre and was experiencing hardship because he was in protective custody.

In refusing bail, Magistrate Duncan said the accused had failed to prove there were “special circumstances” to release him.

She said the offence of intentionally causing a bushfire was “easy to commit, difficult to detect and poses a significant risk to the community”.