A South Coast man has been sentenced to two years' jail after a fire he lit on Boxing Day, 2019, contributed to a "fire storm unlike any before".
On Friday, September 11, Magistrate Doug Dick imposed a non-parole period of 18 months on Deua Valley man Christopher Paul McMahon for permitting a fire to escape his land, causing damage and/or injury.
Magistrate Dick said the court would be failing the community if the 72-year-old Araluen Road resident was not jailed.
"You made a conscious decision knowing your property was surrounded by heavy bush land," he said in Moruya Local Court.
At this point in the proceedings, McMahon tried to speak, but his defence solicitor Lisa Stone urged him to refrain.
She had earlier asked the court to consider special circumstances, including her client's age, his early plea of guilty and his mental health issues.
Ms Stone said McMahon believed he had completely extinguished a "small" hazard reduction fire near his lemon tree.
"He was watching the cricket and the dog barked," she told the court.
Seeing flames, he called the Rural Fire Service.
Ms Stone said McMahon was not minimising the seriousness of the offences and took "full responsibility" for his actions.
"He knows what it is like to lose everything," she told the court.
"He lost everything in the 2001 fires."
Ms Stone said her client's state of mind was poor at the time; he had not been sleeping, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and had a long history of poor mental health.
With fire burning on the South Coast, he was terrified.
"He thought fire was coming at him from all directions," Ms Stone told the court.
While acknowledging her client's court history did "not assist him", she said he had in previous years started a volunteer fire brigade and had paid for a water tanker "out of his own pocket".
"He drinks alcohol everyday but tries to minimise it," she said.
His father had been an alcoholic and McMahon was sent to boarding school where he was "treated cruelly and savagely".
However, "he has contributed to society", Ms Stone said.
She said McMahon was "highly regarded" by a pastor and had provided cards showing the regard fellow choir members had for him.
"He tells me he had no intention to hurt people; he is deeply sorry for what happened," Ms Stone said.
She said McMahon had been undertaking community service at a church by supplying food and vegetables.
"This is an extraordinary situation," Ms Stone said.
"It had huge ramifications for a whole lot of people, myself included."
Ms Stone said McMahon initially was hard to get instructions from and was "disjointed".
Now he was "lucid", and "in many ways, has his life together".
"The person I met originally is not the person you see here today," Ms Stone said.
"I would ask for any sentence to be backdated and any leniency would be rewarded."
Magistrate Dick accepted McMahon lived in a remote location where it was hard to secure hazard reduction.
However, he said the accused had television and would have been aware of the bushfire situation and unpredictable conditions.
He said McMahon would have known roads were closed, limiting escape routes.
"You made a decision to light a fire which quickly spread in the thick eucalyptus forest," Magistrate Dick said.
"I accept you called for help ... but it was all too late.
"I can accept you carry some of that trauma today, but considerable resources were marshalled."
He said the marvelous efforts of firefighters could not prevent the fire from joining others.
"It joined with a much larger fire front," Magistrate Dick said.
"There was loss of life."
Magistrate Dick said 83,000 hectares of land was burned, "contributed to by your actions".
"Your actions contributed to a fire storm unlike any before."
Magistrate Dick said hundreds of homes were burned in the period, wildlife was harmed, and a communications tower was damaged.
"You do not come to court as a person of good character," he said.
"I accept there are cognitive deficits and issues and that you acknowledged your guilt.
"Jail is there for a reason.
"The court would be failing the community if I do not send a very strong message, so you will be sent to jail today."
McMahon was also convicted and sentenced to a fixed term of nine months' jail for lighting a fire for land clearance or a fire break without a permit.
For previously failing to appear in court in accordance with bail conditions, he was convicted and fined $300.
McMahon again tried to speak: "Can I please make comment?"
"It is probably better if you don't," Magistrate Dick said.
McMahon quietly accompanied corrections officers from the court.
Previously, on each of three traffic matters relating to an unregistered vehicle he was fined $600.
Ms Stone said McMahon had mistakenly believed his vehicle was registered for 12 months, rather than six.
READ MORE: Bushfire damage delays Deua fire case