A North Canterbury man who lit a giant pile of tyres alight at a neighbouring property, starting a massive fire that terrified his community, has been given a community-based sentence.
Garry Robert Grimmer, 62, was sentenced to nine months of supervision on a charge of arson at the Christchurch District Court this morning, with the condition he attend a counselling programme.
The fire he lit ripped through a stockpile of around 20,000 tyres on a rural property near the Canterbury town of Amberley in February 2018, sending toxic black smoke billowing into the air.
Residents were forced to stay indoors for hours and cover their windows and doors with towels to avoid the smoke, as firefighters battled through the night to extinguish it and narrowly avoided a much larger pile nearby.
The court heard how Grimmer had owned a property across the road and became frustrated as the landowner had leased the land to a tyre collector, who continued to dump tyres over several months.
Judge Jane Farish said both Hurunui District Council and Environment Canterbury had been contacted about the pile before the fire, and while the activity had been monitored, the pile had not been removed.
The court heard Grimmer attempted to sell his property and move but that failed, and his mental health suffered. He lost his job and went through a mortgagee sale.
Judge Farish noted that on February 26, after continuing to watch the tyres build up, Grimmer “effectively snapped’.
“He took some petrol and some paper, and went across and lit a fire in the smaller pile that contained 20,000 tyres,” she said.
“He immediately, however, returned to his property and rang the fire brigade.”
A lawyer for the victims, who had leased the land to a collector but became overwhelmed by the dumping, said his client had suffered “emotional harm” from the fire and was now looking to sell some land to cover the costs.
They had spent a long time afraid more fires would be lit and had to front up the cost of clearing the debris, remediating the land and faced “community ridicule”, he said.
They had only agreed to hold the tyres for a short time, and have now been left with a significant bill to work with the council to remove the stockpile. Action was being taken against the person who dumped them, who has now failed to remove them, he said.
“The actions of Grimmer have had a deleterious affect on the community at large as well.”
However, the judge refused to order a reparation payment of $159,000, saying Grimmer did not have the wherewithal to pay it, and opted for a community-based sentence.
She noted he was “very sorry” and said his intention was bring attention to the stockpile.