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Fire-related Offences: How might the total fire ban affect you?

The hot, windy conditions we’ve being seeing in the last few weeks have resulted in a total fire ban being issued across many areas of NSW. This means that...

Zoe Whetham

The hot, windy conditions we’ve being seeing in the last few weeks have resulted in a total fire ban being issued across many areas of NSW. This means that ‘the lighting, maintenance or use of any fire’ in the open air is prohibited. There are a number of offences we should all be mindful of during this period.

Not complying with a total fire ban order

If you light or use a fire in the open air during a total fire ban order you may be committing an offence that could result in a maximum fine of $5,500 and/or 12 months imprisonment.

You can still use a barbeque if it is electric or gas and is controlled by a responsible adult, there is no combustible material within 2 metres and the barbeque is within 20 metres of a home or designated picnic area.

You can not use a pizza oven or any barbeque that uses wood, charcoal or heat beads during a total fire ban.

Discarding cigarettes or matches

Normally, discarding cigarettes or matches, whether it is just on the ground or out a car window, is an offence carrying a maximum fine of $5,500. During a total fire ban, the maximum fine is double – $11,000.

If the cigarette is discarded out a car window, the driver or owner of the car will be deemed guilty unless the cigarette was discarded by a passenger of a bus, taxi or other public transport vehicle.

Setting fire to someone else’s property or land

Under the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW), it is an offence to set fire to someone’s land or property.

If you are a landowner or occupier and you permit a fire to escape your land, in circumstances where it is likely to cause injury or damage to any person, property or land of another person you can also be found guilty of an offence.

The penalty for both of these offences is a maximum fine of $110,000 and/or five years imprisonment.

Committing this offence during a total fire ban will be considered an aggravating factor under the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 and will therefore affect the sentence you receive in court.

If you are found to have committed these offences and knew that there was a total fire ban in place, the penalty increases to a maximum fine of $132,000 and/or seven years imprisonment.

Failing to Properly Extinguish a Fire

It is also an offence to leave a fire that you have lit or used in the open air before you have properly extinguished it. This applies even if you leave the fire temporarily but if you are using it for cooking, heating or preparing meals and someone else takes over, there is no need to extinguish it.

In a fire ban, however, it is an offence to light an open-air fire as mentioned above.

Arson

The most serious offence of this nature is arson under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). A person may be found guilty of arson if they destroy or damage any property with fire or explosives and intend to endanger the life of another person. This offence carries the maximum penalty in NSW of 25 years imprisonment.

The offence of arson also applies to a person who dishonestly destroys or damages property with fire or explosives. This has a slightly lower maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.

If you are charged with a fire-related offence and need further assistance, contact us on 9025 9888.