Fireworks caused $46,000 Selwyn fire

An 18-year-old is already helping victims with the damage he did by shooting fireworks out the window of a car, which started a $46,000 fire.

The fire at a property on Newtons Road, Selwyn District, burnt several mature pine shelter belts, part of an ornamental garden hedge, and a ride-on lawnmower.

“The fire came close to the victims’ house before it was brought under control, with scorching and damage to a window awning from falling embers,” said the police prosecutor Bronwen Blackmore when Thomas Tecwyn Williamson appeared in the Christchurch District Court.

Williamson, a fencer from Darfield, pleaded guilty immediately at his first appearance to the charge of recklessly causing the damage in the incident on the evening of November 3.

Police said he was a passenger in a car which pulled over on Newtons Road. Williamson lit and fired fireworks out the window as another car containing friends went by. The cars had been travelling in convoy around the area.

Some of the fireworks hit a hedge on the opposite side of the road. A witness yelled at them and both vehicles sped off.

The fire in the vegetation caught hold quickly, in the hot weather and strong winds. Emergency services took several hours to put it out, and the property owners had to move out of their house overnight while fire crews dampened down and monitored the blaze.

Police publicised the description of the two vehicles and Williamson went to the police three days later to say he had fired the fireworks. He said he had shot the fireworks into the air above the other car. Some shots went near the hedge but he did not think they went into the hedge.

He said it occurred to him later that he should have checked if the shots had started a fire.

Reparation claims are expected from the victims’ insurance company, Fire and Emergency New Zealand for fighting the fire, and for the removal and replacement of trees not covered by the victims’ insurance.

Judge John Macdonald remanded Williamson on bail for sentencing on March 20. He asked for a pre-sentence report, a reparation report, and a referral for a restorative justice meeting with the victims.

Defence counsel Gerard Thwaites said Williamson was already “assisting the victims with the damage” and asked for a long remand for sentencing.

He said Williamson had been saving for four years for a trip to Japan to do a course for a ski registration ticket. He was due to leave on November 21.

The teenager had made a massive mistake with disastrous consequences. Mr Thwaites asked the judge to grant the eight-week break before sentencing to allow Williamson to do the course in Japan and continue the work he has been doing with the victims.

Mrs Blackmore said the police had originally wanted Williamson to surrender his passport, but now that he had pleaded guilty they had no objection to him travelling to Japan.

“He won’t be a flight risk,” said Mr Thwaites. “His mother and father are in court.”