AN ANIMAL carer is offering a £5,000 reward in a desperate bid to find the arsonists who tried to torch his home.
Darren Hunt, 43, said he feels lucky to be alive after the attack on his Weymouth home, which is also a rescue centre for hundreds of injured animals.
Fire investigators are now probing the blaze, which originated from a mobility scooter that was parked outside Mr Hunt’s home in Pirates Lane in Wyke Regis on Wednesday night.
Mr Hunt prevented an explosion by moving the mobility scooter away from a nearby gas canister.
Now, fearing for his life, he is issuing a plea for information and is offering a £5,000 reward.
Mr Hunt, locally known as The Birdman of Wyke Regis, posted a picture of his fire-damaged home on social networking site Facebook.
He said: “I was lucky – I had been planning to have an early night.
“If I’d been inside the barn, I wouldn’t have noticed and I’d be dead right now.
“It would have gone off like a bomb. Thank God the animals are okay.”
Mr Hunt was outside tending to a poorly pig when he heard his burglar alarm go off.
He said: “When I went to investigate, there was someone in the field.
“He had squirted something – I guess petrol – on the scooter, which was parked between the barn and my car, and set fire to it.
“I chased him but I thought ‘if I don’t put out the fire, the gas cylinder will go up and we’ll all be killed’.
“I ran back, picked up the scooter and just threw it as far I could because I had to get it away from the gas.”
Mr Hunt extinguished the blaze before firefighters arrived, resulting in him pulling the muscles in his arm, which he now has in a sling.
The mobility scooter was destroyed in the fire and the side of Mr Hunt’s car was also damaged.
The pen of his 22-year-old owl, Nina, was filled with smoke but luckily the bird was unharmed.
Mr Hunt runs the animal rescue centre on behalf of his parents after he suffered serious injuries in a car crash in 2001.
It is home to chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, goats, sheep, dogs and birds of prey, some of which will be released back into the wild.
Mr Hunt, who is currently the subject of a council planning investigation after building his home inside the barn without permission, said he is still in shock from the incident and it has left him fearing reprise attacks.
He added: “I didn’t get any sleep last night and I doubt I’ll be able to sleep tonight, either.”
Call police if you can help
A DORSET Police spokesman said: “We had a report that a person set fire to a mobility scooter and caused damage to another vehicle at around 9.20pm on Wednesday night.”
A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said the fire is believed to have been deliberate.
She added: “On arrival, firefighters were met by the property owner and the blaze had been extinguished.
“We are following all the usual investigative procedures, including checking CCTV and crime scene investigation.”
Anyone with information should call the police on 101.