A former Northland volunteer firefighter was eligible for parole the same day he was sentenced to jail for arson.
Andrew Lee Searle, 23, was a member of the Te Kopuru Volunteer Fire brigade when he started lighting fires over the course of nearly three years that cost the Department of Conservation a total of $642,595 to extinguish and caused a projected loss in forestry earnings of $1.4 million.
Last week on Wednesday Searle appeared in the Whangārei District Court before Judge John McDonald and was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison.
However, a New Zealand Parole Board spokesperson said due to the two years Searle had already served while on remand he was eligible for parole on March 20.
"The law requires the board to consider parole as soon as practicable after that. Time spent on remand is counted as time served on the full sentence."
The board will hold a parole hearing in May, as it is legally required to under the Parole Act.
"The arrival of a parole eligibility date does not necessarily equate to release, simply that a hearing must be held by the Board to consider parole," the spokesperson said.
"The board's paramount consideration in every case is community safety."
Searle was to stand trial last month but instead a few weeks before it was scheduled to start he pleaded guilty to 10 charges of arson for fires lit between June 2014 and January 2017. The trial was scheduled to take three weeks.
Most of the fires were lit in scrub which spread into DoC land but sometimes reached forestry blocks, destroying large stands of pine trees.
During sentencing Judge McDonald said Searle had no previous convictions, was young and had plead guilty to the charges which entitled him to a discount on his sentence.
However, Judge McDonald said there was a degree of premeditation and while Searle lit the fires with a lighter, as a firefighter he would have known how to start and make sure the fires caught.
"This was not just a spur of the moment over a long weekend that you lit these fires, it was over a considerable period of time. You must have thought about the one you had lit before you went off and lit another."