Tough Penalties for Reckless Fire Starters

The devastation wrought along Warri Street, North Pindimar, by an unattended heap fire last month – RFS action saved the NBN connection (two white posts) and stopped it at the fence-line.

RECENT bushfires have prompted a reminder from the Rural Fire Service (RFS) of the tough penalties faced by negligent fire starters.

While the RFS and its local constituents are quite vigilant about illegal fires, the recent Pindimar fires prove that serious events can erupt from negligent behaviour.

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According to the Sentencing Council of NSW, the ‘Bushfire Offence’, “makes it an offence to cause a fire intentionally, and be reckless as to its spread to vegetation on any public land or on land belonging to another; the maximum penalty for the offence is 21 years’ imprisonment and the Standard Non-Parole Period is 5 years.”

The recent Pindimar fires are still awaiting official inspection outcomes, however, eye-witnesses during the event reported seeing several suspicious ‘heap fires’, where property owners had allegedly started burning off without a permit, during the official fire season.

“The penalties are there, but they are very hard to enforce,” Pindimar/Tea Gardens RFS Brigade Captain David Bright told NOTA.

“Fire season finishes at the end March, meaning no permits are required, however, anybody intending to burn-off still needs to notify RFS and their neighbours 24 hours prior.”

“The RFS has not issued permits for any fires in the MidCoast District since December, due to the heightened risk in the area.”

The CSIRO has remarkably clear information on ‘Myths and Misconceptions’ related to bushfires, including a breakdown of the ‘Fire Triangle’, the three key components that make fire: fuel, oxygen and an ignition source.

Put simply, at least one (ideally two) of these points of the ‘Fire Triangle’ must be removed to extinguish a fire.

Haphazardly burying a heap fire does not remove the fuel, it does not totally smother, and heat retains inside burning logs for quite a while.

“Don’t start unpermitted fires, and if you do, don’t bury them, and don’t put big stumps in the middle of them,” Captain Bright explained.

“You don’t bury a fire because chances are you are not putting it out, and it can re-ignite, which is what happened recently.”

“Fortunately, the rain came. If it hadn’t, we would still be chasing it.”

Tea Gardens Fire and Rescue Captain Jim Wisemantel told NOTA, “MidCoast Council’s ‘Clean Air Act’ means no burning off in areas like Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest, including timber stacks or burning green wood.”

“TGHN are ‘no-burn’ (burnoffs, bonfires, rubbish fires, etc.) at all times of the year.”

By Thomas O’KEEFE

Firefighters’ efforts to prevent the recent blaze from jumping Warri Street were only cemented by eventual rain a week later.

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