It’s the season for burning off and many people living in bushfire-affected communities are weighing up the benefits of reducing fuel load with the risk of starting an uncontrollable fire.
Bega Valley Shire Council has asked residents to comment on a new draft of their Burning Off in Open Areas Policy, which aims to streamline the process of seeking council approval to burn for property owners on land of more than 3000 square metres in certain zones.
Meanwhile, the Far South Coast Rural Fire Service has warned they’ve already fielded many calls about burns on private land.
“Our community endured a very long and severe fire season with a lot of the local area burnt,” said a Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesperson. “Understandably, there is still a lot of anxiety in the community when the sight and smell of smoke returns.”
But for some landowners, such as Tom Hamilton, of Kalaru, seasonal burning is a big part of managing bushfire risk.
“We’ve been burning parts of this land every year for more than 30 years,” said Tom of the 100 acres he grew up on and has returned to as an adult with his family.
“Dad has a forestry background and after seeing the effects of burning on the landscape, we’re believers of burning for the health of the environment as well as to reduce bushfire risk.”
The RFS said no call-outs this year have resulted in damage to property, but reminded the community of the legal requirement to register an intent to burn and give neighbours at least 24 hours notice.
“Registering your burn with the RFS and notifying neighbours helps avoid dragging volunteers away from their homes, families or work for a fire that is under control and didn’t need the attendance of a truck and crew,” said the spokesperson. “It also gives your neighbours a chance to get the washing in or close windows.”
Unfortunately, the Far South Coast RFS reports there have been several instances of brigades being called to a fire they didn’t know about and, in some cases, being subjected to verbal abuse by landowners.
“This isn’t acceptable treatment of the same people who tirelessly defended their communities three short months ago,” said the spokesperson.
Many of the public comments submitted to Bega Valley Shire Council’s Have Your Say page are concerned with climate change and air quality, as well as the risk of fires getting out of control, pointing out that fire is not the only way to deal with large-scale organic waste, and asking council to make woodchipping an easier and more affordable option.
But for Tom, who is situated on 100 acres backing onto Mimosa Rocks National Park, fire is still the best way to manage his family’s land.
“I think the recent fires are more reason to continue burning,” he said. “It may not stop a fire from coming through but all the evidence suggests that cool-season burning results in less intense wildfires.”
The RFS has a guide for pile burning and asks that the public read it and have everything in place before striking a match. The fine for starting an uncontrollable fire is $2200.
“The last thing we want to do is hinder people from using fire as a land management tool, but we hope to remind everyone that we need to know what is going on so we can respond to the fires that need our attention and not to the ones that don’t,” said the spokesperson.
Locally, you can register your intent to burn online or by contacting the Bega Fire Control Centre on 02 6494 7400 or Moruya Fire Control Centre on 02 4474 2855.