The Rural Fire Service (RFS) has supported the two-year prison sentence handed down to a NSW South Coast man who lit a fire on Boxing Day 2019 that burnt thousands of hectares.
Christopher Paul McMahon was sentenced on Friday, 11 September, for an illegal hazard reduction in Deua River Valley which spread and joined the Clyde Mountain bushfire, adding pressure to already busy RFS volunteers.
“[When the Deua River Valley fire started] we were already dealing with the Currowan fire, which had encroached on the top end of the Eurobodalla,” said Far South Coast Rural Fire Service district officer Martin Webster.
“[The Currowan fire] was showing no signs of pulling up. It was marching south despite our best efforts so we were already committed to that fire. Then [the Deua River Valley] was probably the second fire we were dealing with.”
Mr Webster said the RFS is “comfortable” with Moruya Local Court’s decision to sentence Mr McMahon to two years in prison, and the message it sends to the community and arsonists.
“[Arson/negligent use of fire] is something we take very seriously and pursue very actively,” said Mr Webster.
The bushfire danger period has now begun on the NSW Far South Coast and Mr Webster had a simple but strong message for anyone who irresponsibly starts fires.
“The bottom line is, don’t do it,” he said. “We work very closely with the police to keep a close eye on areas where there have been suspicious fires. There are very stiff penalties involved, as well, especially for deliberately lighting fires. The maximum penalty can be up to 21 years in prison.”
“Anyone wishing to light a fire during the bushfire danger period must obtain a permit from their local fire brigade. Call the Far South Coast Fire Control Centre on 02 6494 7400 for information on how to get in touch with your local fire brigade.
“Fire permits are required and any breach of permit conditions are also taken very seriously. Fines can apply if people breach the conditions on their permits so I’d strongly recommend anyone who has a permit reads it carefully.”
The RFS has begun hazard reduction on the NSW Far South Coast, however Mr Webster said the conditions for fires to start and spread aren’t as bad this year as they were last year.
“This time last year, our drought factor was 9.5/10,” he said. “At the moment, we’re sitting on about seven, but we’ve got full dams, the soil moisture profile is much better than it was this time last year, and we have a lot less area to burn.
“However, we do still have places where we could have quite nasty fires so people need to be vigilant and make sure they have a bushfire survival plan. Last year would have given people on the Far South Coast a really good rehearsal of their bushfire survival plan so it’s worth revisiting and seeing what can be done better this year.”
Back burning has been carried out around Pambula and Pambula Beach and will take place in Eden this weekend, said Mr Webster.
“We’ve been looking at areas that still carry risk and mitigating that risk,” he said. “That’s not to say we can eliminate risk, but we’re doing our best to reduce it.”