CFA warn of risks of unauthorised burn-offs after more than 10 reported in a month

The Country Fire Authority is urging people to think of possible dangers before lighting fires this summer following a spate of call-outs to unlawful burn-offs.  

The CFA has reported more than 10 unauthorised burn-offs to police throughout district 15 in less than a month since the fire danger period was activated on December 12.

In one instance over the weekend five units were called to an unauthorised blaze in Waubra which has since been reported. 

CFA District 15 operations manager Brett Boatman said the district’s zero-tolerance policy on burning during the period was well documented. . 

“If we attend a burn-off during the fire danger period we issue a notice to police straight away,” Mr Boatman said.  

“In some cases it’s a lack of awareness but in other cases it’s just people choosing to burn off when they shouldn’t.” 

All burn-offs during the fire danger period require a permit from the CFA, while all burn-off and incinerator fires are banned entirely on total fire ban days.

The maximum penalty for lighting a fire during a total fire ban day is $34,646 or two years in jail, while fines are also issued for unauthorised fires during the fire danger period. 

Senior Sergeant Peter McCormack said while the fire safety message had been heeded by most of the community, some continued to overlook the warnings.

“It’s quite easy to get onto the CFA website and access the information,” Senior Sergeant McCormack said. 

“The CFA advertising campaign around fire safety is intense so there is no excuse for people not knowing.”

Mr Boatman said while some of the fires occurred in rural areas, many of those burning without permits did so in urban areas. 

“A lot of the fires occur in backyards in townships rather than on the land,” Mr Boatman said.  “We find most farmers are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to permits.” 

The warning comes as the CFA also looks to address the risk of fire started by farm machinery heading into the latter stages of harvest.  

In previous years farm machinery has been the cause of some of the region’s most catastrophic fires, including the 2013 blaze in Carngham which razed 1600 hectares as well as the 2015 Scotsburn fire which burned through 4600 hectares. 

In northern parts of the state the CFA has been kept busy with fires from farm machinery, with crews responding to more than 20 combine harvester fires in the Wimmera Mallee. 

Mr Boatman said while the CFA understood the need for farmers to operate machinery during the hotter months, precautionary steps such as having well serviced machinery and a working fire extinguisher were crucial. 

Operators can be fined for failing to carry appropriate fire prevention equipment in the event of fire.

“We had an incident in Miners Rest before Christmas where a fire started and it was extinguished by the land owner before the CFA arrived,” Mr Boatman said.  

“These precautions are critical because the whole idea is to keep small fires small.” 

The CFA has created a grain harvesting guide with the Victorian Farmers Federation which provides farmers with advice on the best times to operate.