40 illegal fires on long weekend

PUBLIC land fire authorities are deeply disappointed by the behaviour of some Victorian campers on the Labour Day long weekend as many ignored weather conditions and the fire danger warnings and restrictions, lighting illegal campfires or leaving fires unattended in dangerous conditions.

The Chief Conservation Regulator, Kate Gavens, said Conservation Regulator and Forest Fire Management Victoria Authorised Officers patrolled campsites statewide and detected more than 40 campfires still alight during a Total Fire Ban, a number that could have been much higher had officers not intervened to prevent several people from also lighting fires.

“Victoria has experienced some of its most dangerous fire days recently, including record-breaking temperatures over the long weekend. Bushfires can have devastating consequences and it is simply not good enough for campers to be unaware of the fire risks and restrictions, especially a Total Fire Ban,” she said.

Authorised Officers also handed out fines and official warnings to campers caught breaching other campfire rules, including leaving their campfires unattended and failing to clear three metres around their fire of flammable materials.

On Friday, 8 March, weekend forecasts of hot, dry conditions prompted authorities to declare Saturday, 9 March, a day of Total Fire Ban across five weather districts; the South West, Central, Wimmera, North Central, and West and South Gippsland regions.

Despite the extreme fire danger and temperatures peaking around 40 degrees, campsites in these regions were still the busiest in the state, with many campers visiting from Melbourne.

Chief Fire Officer, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Chris Hardman, said that during patrols, Authorised Officers provided campers with information and resources on campfire safety and Total Fire Ban rules to ensure they minimised the risk of bushfires.

“Even if it’s not a declared Total Fire Ban day, campers must reassess their need for a fire in warm, dry and windy conditions. And if you do light a campfire, make sure you do the right thing and extinguish it properly – it only takes one campfire to take off and then you’ve got a major fire,” he said.

Campers are responsible for being up-to-date with the latest fire danger ratings and restrictions, especially if a Total Fire Ban is in place, before lighting a campfire or barbecue.

Before leaving home, campers should check weather forecasts and fire warnings, which can be found online through the Bureau of Meteorology, or via the VicEmergency website, app, or hotline on 1800 226 226. People should stay informed about weather conditions and warnings from their campsite, people should also pack a portable radio and listen in to their local station for updates.

It is a serious offence under the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 to light or maintain a fire on a declared day of Total Fire Ban, attracting penalties up to $46,154 and/or two years in prison. Other campfire offences in state forests and parks attract fines of between $577 and $19,231.

FFMV encourages the community to help do their part by reporting illegal and unattended campfires to us 136 186. Bushfires should be reported to 000.