Man charged after fires destroy hundreds of hectares of land, crops in Far North Queensland

A 37-year-old man has been charged over a series of deliberately lit fires that destroyed hundreds of hectares of crops and bushland in Far North Queensland.

It took 100 firefighters, as well as dozens of landholders 12 hours to fight the blaze near Mareeba, west of Cairns, on Tuesday.

The fire threatened 25 homes and destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars in sugarcane, mango, lime and lychee crops across an enormous area encompassing Mareeba, Chewko and Biboohra.

Mareeba Police Acting Inspector Kyell Palmer said police had charged the man with 13 counts of setting fire to vegetation following a search of the man’s home yesterday.

The man, who lives in the local area, is due to appear at the Mareeba Magistrates Court today.

“We have had excellent assistance from the community in regards to the information that’s been provided,” Acting Inspector Palmer said.

“We are still calling on the community that may be able to provide dash cam or CCTV or any other evidence to come forward.

“The vision provided so far has played a large role in the investigation.”

A fire from distance glows orange among trees and surrounding dark.
More than 100 firefighters and landholders battled the fires.(Supplied: Queensland Police Service )

Acting Inspector Palmer said the fires were lit across an enormous area and that the full cost and scope of the damage was still being assessed.

Limes and lychees up in smoke

The area is known as the food bowl of the far north, with a variety of crops, including sugarcane, mangoes and avocados.

Exterior of mareeba courthouse, with a brick wall and Mareeba Courthouse spelt out.
The 37-year-old man is due to appear at the Mareeba Magistrates Court today.(ABC News: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

Joe Bacchion, his wife and three young children live on Chewko Road and have lost nearly 6,000 lime trees and 600 lychee trees as well as their irrigation infrastructure in the fire.

After fighting the fire for hours, Mr Bacchion was relieved they were able to save their home and prevent the fire from spreading to other nearby residences.

But he was devastated to lose what he estimated to be more than half a million dollars worth of trees.

A glowing blaze behind gum trees
The fire has destroyed about 6,000 lychee trees in one local farm.(Supplied: Joe Bacchion)

“[We’ve] got to pull them all out, start again. They’re completely burnt. They’ll never return from that,” he said.

“We’re trying to work out how we’re going to either start again… or whether it’s worth doing it again.

“If you were to replant all the trees, you’d need a good five or six years before you can get an income off them again, and say, five to 10 years, by the time you can get it all up and established again .

“I just don’t know what I can afford it at the moment.”

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