In the past week, a number of people have been fined or charged with fire offences committed during the recent total fire ban in NSW. Many of us are aware that deliberately lighting a bushfire can carry a significant term of imprisonment. However, there are a number of other offences you should know about.
Lighting a campfire or burning rubbish
Boiling a cup of tea could land you in hot water. This month, a Western Sydney man was fined $2200 for failing to comply with the Total Fire Ban when he lit a small campfire to make a cup of tea.
Closer to home, a Hunter Valley man was charged after allegedly lighting a fire in a backyard to burn rubbish, less than 40 metres from a shed containing petrol, oil and fertiliser.
If a fire ban is in place, you cannot light, maintain or use a fire in the open, or carry out any activity that causes, or is likely to cause a fire. You can also not do any general purpose hot works in the open, such as welding, grinding or gas cutting.
If you light a fire during a total fire ban, you may be fined $2,200 on the spot. If the matter goes to court, the fine can be up to $5,500 or 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.
Lighting a barbeque
The following day, another man was arrested for failing to comply with the ban, by lighting a fire in a small coal barbeque in Blacktown. You cannot operate an outside barbeque or oven that uses solid fuel (including charcoal or wood) during a Total Fire Ban.
You are permitted to use an electric barbeque for cooking as long as a responsible adult is operating the barbeque and is present at all times while it is on. However, you cannot bring any combustible material within 2 metres of the barbeque.
You must observe the same rules as using an electric barbeque when using gas, however you also must have an immediate and continuous supply of water, and the gas barbeque must be within 20 metres of a home or within a designated picnic area. If the barbeque is within a picnic area it must have been approved by the Council, National Parks or State Forest.
Impersonating a firefighter
Another man is due to appear in court in December, charged with impersonating an emergency services officer after he was caught dressed as a firefighter in Sydney’s Royal National Park.
The State Emergency and Rescue Management Act prescribes a maximum penalty of $5,500 if a person is found guilty of using or displaying emergency services insignia or impersonating an emergency services officer with the intention to deceive. The maximum penalty increases to $11,000 if, in impersonating an officer, the person purports to exercise a function of such an officer, for example, giving instructions on back burning.
Throwing away a lit cigarette butt
The Rural Fires Act makes it an offence to discard a lit tobacco product, or any other object that may be a fire risk on any land. If you do so, you can be fined $5,500, and this can be doubled if there is a total fire ban in force.
If you are the driver when someone throws a cigarette butt out of a car, you may be found guilty of this offence if the person who discarded the cigarette cannot be ascertained – even if you didn’t throw it yourself.
Not extinguishing a fire
Leaving an open air fire (even temporarily) that you have lit or used, without extinguishing it, carries a maximum penalty of $5,500, or one years’ imprisonment, or both.
If a fire gets out of control
If you light a fire on someone else’s property or land, or you light a fire on your own land and it escapes or damages another’s person or property (including the environment), you may be charged with an offence under s 100 of the Rural Fires Act. If found guilty, the maximum penalty is a fine of $110,000, or 5 years’ imprisonment, or both. The fact that a total fire ban was in place at the time of the offence can be considered as an aggravating factor when sentencing you. However, if the prosecution can show that you knew there was a total fire ban in force at the time, the maximum penalty increases to $132,000 or 7 years’ imprisonment, or both.