'It was just an accident'

A firefighter hoses the flames which engulfed buildings at the old North Ipswich Railway Workshops.
A firefighter hoses the flames which engulfed buildings at the old North Ipswich Railway Workshops. Claudia Baxter

A TEENAGER who started a spectacular blaze which destroyed part of Ipswich's old railway workshops has claimed the fire began accidentally.

The fire at the corner of North and WM Hughes Sts lit up the night sky across Ipswich and needed 14 fire crews to bring it under control.

Mitchell Andrew Dewhirst, 18, pleaded guilty to one count of arson at a hearing at Ipswich District Court.

The court heard Dewhirst and a 13-year-old friend had gone to the workshops on the evening of September 26. After smashing some windows the pair made their way into the rail yards where they sniffed glue and lit a piece of paper on the ground.

Dewhirst made some "brief but ineffective steps to extinguish the fire" before they both fled.

But the flames rapidly took hold of three disused buildings next to the city's historic Workshops Rail Museum.

Despite most of the fire being contained to the three buildings,

flames came dangerously close to the museum itself.

Almost 50 firefighters were called to battle the blaze and North Ipswich residents were told to stay inside with their doors and windows shut.

The major concern was when fire crews on the scene discovered both buildings contained asbestos and advised Queensland Health.

The cost to clean up the blaze, including the removal of asbestos, was $200,000.

The buildings destroyed were disused engineering offices and administration blocks scheduled for demolition. They dated from the 1940s and were part of the original North Ipswich Railway Workshops but had been sold to a private owner six years ago.

Crown prosecutors accepted Dewhirst's actions were not malicious and said his behaviour had been that of "stupidity".

Dewhirst, who was 17 years old at the time, handed himself in to police and confessed.

He was released on bail and first appeared at Ipswich Magistrates Court on October 18. He has a criminal history for "unregulated high-risk activity".

Defence barrister Steve Kissick said Dewhirst thought the fire was out when he left and hadn't intended to start such a huge blaze. Mr Kissick noted there had been evidence of squatters living in the abandoned buildings.

Judge Deborah Richards adjourned the sentence for a pre-sentence report to be prepared on Dewhirst.

Dewhirst's 13-year-old co-accused was dealt with on March 14.

Firefighters who battled the blaze were praised in court for the "massive responsibility" of saving the museum without damage.

Topics:  arson, blaze, firefighters, inferno



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