Fire Safety | Features
It's that time of the year again. The sun is belting down, there's less rain and the mercury is rising - it's bushfire season.
This feature was first published in ADB issue #461 – February 2018.
Now, we know you’ve heard it all before, and we’d hate to sound like nagging parents, but it’s important to place a big emphasis on fire safety, whether you’re at home or in the bush.
Many of you probably put your bikes away for the summer, but for those lunatics who enjoy riding and camping in 40-degree heat, remember that every move you make has an impact on the environment, your own safety and other people’s lives.
Here is a scenario for you. Robbo and Johnno knock off work for the week at 11am. Haven’t you heard of POETS day? They resist heading to the pub and instead pack the ute, load up the bikes and head off into the bush for a weekend of camping, riding and getting sloshed.
Most of you, us included, probably think that sounds like a wonderful weekend. But it’s going to be 35+ degrees everyday and the state has a total fire ban; not ideal riding or camping weather, but still prime drinking weather.
When they arrive at their campsite, deep in a state forest, they unload the bikes and begin gearing up. Johnno has really short legs and splashes fuel everywhere as he attempts to fill his bike up with a jerry can.
Robbo sucks on a death stick while he pulls on his 20-year-old nylons and boots. He leaves his jersey behind, too hot for that, and opts for a t-shirt instead. He then flicks the still-lit cigarette into the scrub.
The bikes are old, clapped-out and badly modified two-strokes which are leaking fuel and oil everywhere and don’t have spark arrestors. Robbo and Johnno are carpark bandits and they tear up and down the fire road for 10 minutes, practicing their monos and skids. Eventually they get bored and return to the camp for some water and another dart.
They find a bit of scrub opposite the camp with a little natural jump and begin hitting it to see who can get the most air. Johnno crashes and totals his bike, which is now emitting smoke. The hot exhaust pipe rests in the grass and petrol now drips from the tank.
Robbo bellows with laughter and Johnno tries to defend himself rather than pick his bike up. They return to the camp, where Robbo lights a campfire and Johnno whips out the gas cooker to burn some snags.
Robbo’s campfire is messy and he splashes a bit of fuel on it to really get it going. “Hey Robbo,” Johnno calls out. “Is it a total fire ban today?”
“No idea, mate,” Robbo responds. “Not like they’re gonna catch us out here anyway.” Later that night, after they’ve gone through a slab, Robbo decides to do his famous whisky bottle fire trick.
He fills it up with petrol and sits it in the fire. The top blows off and a huge ball of fire explodes into the sky. The boys whoop with excitement.
The following morning, hungover and exhausted from a rough nights sleep, Robbo suggests they head home. “It’s too hot for this shit,” he says, lighting another cigarette. They pack up and leave, forgetting to pour water on the campfire that is still smouldering. Later that afternoon, sitting by the pool at Robbo’s, news comes through on the radio that a bushfire has broken out in the national park. “Luckily we got out of there when we did” says Johnno.
“I know when it’s too hot to stick it out. Not everyone can be as smart as us, Johnno,” replies Robbo.
Robbo and Johnno are not smart. Robbo and Johnno are idiots. It’s people like them that are often the cause of devastating bushfires which destroy the environment, businesses, homes and lives.
They may not intend to cause so much damage, but their reckless and brainless actions lead directly to the fire and fury.
Crime Stoppers recently approached us, but it’s not what you think. Some of the public seem to think that most dirtbike riders are hoons and criminals, which is downright ludicrous. No, Crime Stoppers approached us to help raise awareness about bushfire prevention.
The community crime prevention organisation is pushing it’s ‘Reckless Fires Cost Lives’ campaign this summer and while it is aimed at Victorians, it is applicable to anyone living or spending time in an at-risk fire area.
Did you know that it is a criminal offence under Victorian law to cause a bushfire through reckless behaviour?
Sure, you may not be an arsonist showing up to your local forest in a balaclava, gloves and trench coat, using a jerry can and a box of matches to inflict major damage, but you can still be liable for causing a bushfire even if you didn’t mean it.
Reckless behaviour includes things like unattended campfires, discarded cigarette butts, inappropriate use of fire like bonfires, unauthorised burn-offs, using hot tools or machinery that emits flames or sparks on Total Fire Ban days and disobeying restrictions relating to Total Fire Ban days or Fire Danger Periods.
CFA chief officer Steve Warrington said there was zero tolerance to unauthorised fires and fires resulting from negligent behaviour.
“A fire started at any time of the year which damages someone else’s property is a crime,” he states. “Even if you have a permit to use fire over the Fire Danger Period, make sure you read the conditions carefully. Failing to follow just one of those conditions may leave you open to prosecution.”
This is no joke. In 2016 there were 45 offences recorded for ‘causing a bushfire’. Don’t think you won’t get caught. Causing a bushfire can carry penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment and fines of over $36,000. And arson causing death carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment.
Crime Stoppers is desperate to spread the message. “Reckless fires cost lives,” says CEO Erika Owens. “We need your help to keep the community safe from bushfires this summer by being aware of your own fire behaviour and that of others.”
It’s a simple message and it really is simple to follow. Just be smart about your actions, check the conditions and report any reckless or deliberate behaviour that may cause bushfires.
If it’s over 40 degrees, you probably don’t need a campfire and, if we are being totally honest, it’s probably best to leave the bike in the shed where possible. Does anyone truly like riding in extreme heat?
And if you do go riding, make sure your bike is well maintained, you’re careful about where you’re pouring fuel, you have a spark arrestor on the exhaust and you don’t leave the bike lying in dry grass.
And for God’s sake! Put your campfires and ciggy butts out! The smartest thing to do would be to avoid bushfire-risk areas altogether in the warmer months and that, once again, comes down to checking the conditions and being aware of any restrictions and warnings.
If you happen to come across a fire, turn around and get to safety. And make sure you report the blaze so it can be stopped as soon as possible.
Of course, if you are a property owner, it’s imperative that you be aware of the dangers and try to minimise them as much as possible. Clear away long grass, dead leaves, wood, debris and any other potential fuels that could contribute to a fire. Make sure you have hoses in the right places, smoke alarms and a fire escape plan. And if a fire is on its way, don’t wait; get the hell out of there.
Bushfires take away homes, businesses and our precious riding areas. Oh, and they claim lives, so be smart.
Do the right thing and don’t be a Robbo or a Johnno.
Report any unruly behaviour to Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000 or at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au. And in an emergency, don’t hesitate, contact 000.
Riding is too much fun, but you can’t do it if the bush is burnt down, you’re in prison or you’re dead.