Fire bans your responsibilities in NSW

Whether you live in or visit Australia during the summer months, it is important to understand the basics on your responsibilities in respect to the laws around Fires.
Summers in Australia are synonymous with Bushfires.  Although the vast majority of bushfires in Australia are started by lightning strikes, there are still over an average of 4,500 fires in New South Wales each year alone that are started accidentally.  These can have devastating effects with just over 20 people on average per year dying and over 600 injuries due to accidental fires in NSW.
As such there are tough penalties in place for intentionally cause a fire or being ‘reckless as to the spread of fire.’  Section 203e of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) imposes a maximum penalty of 21 years imprisonment for this offence.  However as many of these fires are accidental, the large proportion of legal offences fall under the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW).
Although the vast majority of the population of NSW do not live in fire prone bush land, the responsibilities imposed on us by the law extend to every person regardless of location.
For example:
  • it is an offence to throw away a cigarette or match or similar (“fire risk object”) on ANY land, even if it doesn’t cause a fire, pursuant to section 99A of the Rural Fires Act. This carries a maximum fine of $5,500.00.  If this offence is committed on a day when a total fire ban has been imposed, the maximum penalty increases to $11,000.00.
  • Section 100 of the Rural Fires Act states that it is an offence to set fire or cause fire to land or property owned by another person (or the government or local council etc). This includes situations where you’ve allowed fire to escape from your property to another person’s land or property and which might cause injury or damage to the other person, their land or property or the land or property owned by the government/council etc. There is an on the spot fine of $2,200.00, or if issued with a Court Attendance Notice, the maximum penalty is a fine of $110,000.00 or 5 years imprisonment, or both.  If it is during a total fire ban, the penalty increases to a maximum fine of $132,000.00 or 7 years imprisonment, or both.
  • If you have an open air fire and do not COMPLETELY put it out, there is an on the spot fine of $2,200.00. If you receive a Court Attendance Notice, the maximum fine is $5,500.00 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
Total Fire Ban
Generally, during a Total Fire Ban you cannot:
  • Light, maintain or use a fire in the open.
  • Carry out any activity in the open that causes, or is likely to cause a fire.
  • Perform ‘hot’ work in the open such as welding, grinding or gas cutting or any that activity that produces a spark or flame.
Total Fire Ban’s and BBQ:
  • Any BBQ or woodfire pizza oven that uses solid fuel (wood, charcoal, heat beads) cannot be used outdoors.
  • Electric and Gas BBQ’s are permitted as long as there is a responsible adult taking control of the BBQ at ALL times. There must also NOT be any combustible material within 2 metres of the BBQ at any time while it is on.
  • For Gas BBQ’s you must have an immediate and continuous supply of water such as a tap or hose, AND the BBQ must be within 20 metres of a permanent building such as your house.
  • BBQ’s within designated picnic areas where the BBQ is approved by Council, National Parks or State Forest such as the press button BBQ’s supplied at Parks are permitted for use.
In addition to the legislative provisions outlined above, it is also important to remember that if you accidentally cause a fire which in turn damages the property of a third party, you will likely be liable to a civil suit brought against you for any losses caused by the fire.
Ultimately, we are as residents of NSW ALL responsible to ensure we minimize any fire risks.  This is particularly important during our long, dry summers where conditions make it frighteningly easy for fires to get out of control, leaving significant destruction in its wake.
If you have found yourself in a situation where you have been charged with any such offence, please contact our office where our qualified and experienced staff can help you through the process.

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