A TOTAL fire ban was slapped on the Hunter until Thursday morning amid an “unusually high” number of fires in the region.
The ban, which expires at midnight Wednesday, was enforced due to weather conditions deteriorating beyond the original forecast, leading to a severe fire danger.
Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there were 48 instances of illegal fire activity from Friday to Sunday, with about half spread across the Hunter, Sydney and the Central Tablelands.
“It is extremely concerning that so many people lit up and carelessly allowed burns to escape, particularly on a weekend where there were prevailing strong winds and conditions that resulted in three Watch and Act fires threatening homes in the Richmond Valley area,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
“Escaped fires pose a very real and potentially deadly threat to the public, especially if that escaped burn takes hold and fire authorities are not notified, which is why it is important that landholders notify their local Fire Control Centre and their neighbours of their intention to burn.”
The NSW Rural Fire Service warned Lower Hunter residents to take extreme care with any burning activities last Friday despite being more than a month ahead of the official fire season starting in October.
Operational officer Guy Baddock said there had been an unusually high number of fires in the region in recent weeks, particularly in areas including Cessnock, Dungog and Port Stephens.
“Current warm, dry conditions mean landowners need to be very careful when attempting any burning,” he said. “Residents and landowners need to take care when using fire and remember it is their responsibility to control the fire so that it doesn’t escape and cause damage.”
Unsafe use of fire, including a failure to notify authorities or neighbours, can attract a penalty of $5500 or a year in jail. Escaped fires attract penalties of up to $110,000 or five years’ prison.
Firefighters have in recent weeks carried out hazard reduction burns at Somersby and Freemans Waterhole. Crews spent nine hours at Doyalson last weekend contained a fire that tore through more than 360 hectares of bushland. The official danger period begins October 1.
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