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Fire's burning

A fire in the Dooralong Valley last Sunday 5 February resulted in a triple zero call to emergency services and the Rural Fire Brigade (RFS) attending the property where the fire was burning. Neighbours were concerned whether the occupant of the property had a permit to carry out the burn, since the fire did not appear to be a planned event.

Flames of the Dooralong Valley property fire on 5 February can be seen disappearing from the top frame of the photograph. The affected neighbour, who took photographs, said that he continually took photographs whilst the Sunday fire was burning, which are digitally dated and time-stamped. "The flames and the apparent intensity of the fire was constant," he said.

10 February 2023

ALAN HAYES

 

A FIRE PERMIT is required for burning activities during the Bush Fire Danger Period in Rural Fire districts and at all times in Fire and Rescue districts around the state. A condition of the permit is that all affected neighbours must be notified, including those separated by a road, lane or waterway, at least 24 hours before burning. Preparations to avoid any negative impacts from smoke (medical conditions, impacts on sensitive crops, livestock and pets) is also a requirement. Failure to provide notification to neighbours gives them the right to call Emergency 000 to report the fire and local fire authorities may act against individuals who have not complied with the regulations.

 

Substantial fines and prison terms of up to 12 months may apply to persons found to be in breach of the Rural Fires Act 1997 and its Regulations.

 

Civil law suits can also be bought against persons responsible for fire, by those seeking compensation, for losses sustained.

 

The individual who lit the fire in the Dooralong Valley has been lighting similar fires on a regular basis, according to neighbours.

An adjoining property owner confirmed that no notification was given to him by his neighbours of their intention to burn. The adjoining property owner, Mr X, said “this is a regular occurrence, and usually happens in the early evening. My wife has kept an impeccable diary of the neighbour's fire lighting habits."

 

"Notice of the burns is never given to us. What gives it away is the toxic smell in the air that irritates your eyes, nose and throat when the fire is burning", he said.

 

“The fire usually burns for about an hour in what may be a fire pit. The fire looks very intense right from the moment it starts to burn and my wife and I can easily see fuel being continually added to it. The fire is always too high to use for recreational purposes, such as cooking.

 

"What I cannot understand is why such an intensive fire from the moment it is lit to when it's extinguished, unless an accelerant was used to start it and you were trying to cremate something.

 

“The previous fire was on Wednesday 1 February and smelt very toxic,” he said.

 

“My wife and I, as always, had to close all the windows and turn the air conditioning on.

 

“Our eyes, nose and throat were really stinging.

 

“This fire was larger than previously and flames were darting about in the sky. My wife and I were really scared that embers may have started a grass and bush fire. Everything is so tinder dry at the moment.

 

"What I'd like to know is did Mr ****** have a permit for the Sunday fire and for the previous ones and why he doesn't give us notice of his intentions to burn?

 

"When Mr ****** purchased his property a few years ago he carried out a number of pile burns and did obtain a permit and give the required notice to his neighbours. So, he is well aware of the regulations."

 

Another neighbour, Mr Y said, “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the fire. I was mowing the lawn at the time. I immediately rang triple zero and reported it because the flames were so high.

 

“I’ve seen the previous fires that were lit but the flames were never as high as this one,” he said.

 

“I’ve never been given any notice by Mr ******, he just lights his fires and lets them rip.

 

"The fire brigade turned up at around 7.20pm.

 

"The fire  was burning for about an hour but appeared to have been extinguished by the time the fire brigade arrived."

 

The RFS would not confirm whether a permit to light the fire had been granted but NSW Rural Fire Services Superintendent Viki Campbell did say “the RFS responds to all 000 calls as required and provides services in line with the Rural Fires Act.”

 

The Grapevine contacted the individuals by email who lit the fire, to give them the right of reply, and asked the following questions:

 

  • Did you have a permit for the pile burn that took place at your premises on Wednesday 1 February and Sunday 5 February?

 

  • Did you give 24 hours’ notice, as required by the regulations, to your neighbours of your intention to burn?

 

There was no response from the individuals who lit the fire!

 

So, where does this leave the neighbours affected by the fire? The Grapevine spoke to the RFS and expressed the neighbour's concerns that they were worried that this type of event may, yet again, reoccur.

 

The affected neighbours were seeking reassurance from the RFS that the individual who lit the fire understood the gravity of his actions by their attendance and that it was unlikely that an event such as this would not happen again. The RFS would not comment on this and when asked if the affected neighbours had the right to know, said it was a privacy issue. They did say that “they can ring 000 each time he lights a fire. We can then build up a case.” The Grapevine informed the affected neighbours of the RFS' comments.

 

Mr Y said, "I'm disappointed that the fire brigade people didn't find the time to at least speak with affected neighbours.

 

"All I want is some reassurance that we're unlikely to get a repeat of last Sunday.

 

"But why all the secrecy?

 

"We're the victims here and we're being treated like the villains!"

 

The Rural Fire Service does remind residents, however, about rules regarding open pile burns. A permit is required during the bush fire danger period and pile burns must only be undertaken on fallen vegetation under 150 mm in diameter.

 

They cannot contain building materials as these can contain dangerous toxins.

The 3 February fire at the Dooralong Valley property.

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