TENSIONS are high in the small village of Ebor, which is being surrounded by an out-of-control bushfire that was allegedly sparked by one of its own residents.
Gavin James Gardiner is behind bars accused of deliberately torching bushland to protect a hidden cannabis crop, before it took off, threatening the homes of neighbours and Gardiner's own.
ACMhas been told firefighters had worked to save Gardiner's house from the fire, which had already engulfed more than 10,000 hectares on Sunday afternoon and continued to spread.
In a cruel twist, Armidale detectives further allege the 51-year-old local stood to profit with work in the recovery and clean-up efforts, after the fire passed.
As firefighters continue to battle the massive inferno, that continued to rage on Sunday afternoon, locals have been forced to evacuate their homes, or seek shelter as the fire bears down on the dry village.
Residents are outraged at claims the fire - which was sparked in the Guyra Road area, about 10km west of the village on Thursday - was deliberately lit to stop a cannabis crop going up in flames; but also during a total fire ban, and one of the worst droughts on record.
ACM revealed on Friday that Gardiner was arrested by Armidale detectives at an Ebor hotel at about 2pm. He was refused bail by the registrar in an out-of-sessions bail hearing in Armidale Local Court on Saturday morning.
He was ordered to remain in custody until Monday where he will reappear in Armidale court in front of magistrate Michael Holmes.
Gardiner faces a maximum penalty of 21 years' imprisonment if found guilty of intentionally causing a fire and being reckless to its spread. He is yet to enter a plea.
On Sunday afternoon, the Guyra Road, Ebor fire forced the closure of the Waterfall Way, with a Watch-and-Act fire warning in place.
Strong winds fanned flames and sparked more activity on the fireground, which saw the blaze burning towards the Ebor village, in an easterly direction towards Waterfall Way.
The winds - which played havoc with control efforts - were then expected to see the fire shift towards the Wongwibinda area.
Residents were being warned to monitor conditions and remain vigilant as firefighters tried to control the blaze.
As a result of the massive fire, Ebor Public School has been closed on Monday because of safety concerns, the Department of Education confirmed.