EMERGENCY service officials have slammed “negligent” behaviour that sparked seven fires as the Wimmera experienced its first Total Fire Ban day of the summer.
The fires happened in, and around, the Horsham, Ararat, St Arnaud, Halls Gap and Kaniva areas at the weekend. Saturday was declared a Total Fire Ban day, amid the classified fire danger period.
Country Fire Authority District 17 operations manager Craig Brittain said people were “complacent, negligent and unaware” of the Total Fire Ban day.
Mr Brittain said the fire authority and brigades were well prepared for the fire danger period and had warned the community about the threat of a dangerous summer. He said the carelessness people showed at the weekend was “very disappointing”.
“We knew what to prepare for and what the conditions would be. We had below average rainfall for quite some time and the conditions that blew up on Saturday were conducive to having a severe fire danger day,” he said.
“From a firefighting perspective, it is disappointing that even on a high-risk day – Total Fire Ban or not – with the wind at the weekend, people thought it was okay to light a fire.
“It is disappointing that these people would put themselves, their neighbours and communities at risk by doing something that is very dangerous.”
A strategy between the fire authority and Victoria Police plans to crack down on illegal fires during the fire danger period.
“If people light a fire on a Total Fire Ban day, there is no exception – they will be charged,” he said. “With our zero tolerance strategy, we are trying to mitigate the risk to the community.”
Mr Brittain said there were “numerous occasions” when people were charged for illegal fires since the launch of the campaign in October.
“It’s really important for the community to understand that we live in a high-risk area – especially with the weather conditions we’re facing at the end of this week,” he said.
Horsham Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Ellis said police were unable to provide details of the fires because they were under investigation.
“Each is investigated on its merits and where sufficient evidence exists, we will pursue those charges,” he said.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts hot weather as the weekend approaches.
Thursday is forecast to reach 38 degrees followed by 39 degrees on Friday.
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