Photo: Illabarook fire on 13 January – Tracey Worsley, Haddon Fire Brigade
CFA has warned Victorians to avoid driving vehicles, farm machinery, mowers and motorbikes through dry grass in coming weeks as conditions heat up and vegetation dries out.
Following a string of hot weather over recent weeks, grassland areas have completely dried out in the northern areas of the state and fuels in the South West region are curing just as quickly.
CFA has responded to a number of significant grass and stubble fires started by mowers, vehicles or machinery over the past fortnight.
Last Friday, 13 January, crews in the state’s west stopped a 300-acre grassfire in its tracks in Illabarook, believed to be started by a seized bearing on a header.
The fire quickly spread to dry grass, with flames reaching approximately nine metres tall and required air firefighting appliances to support a significant ground response to bring the fire under control.
CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said the recent fires across the state serve as a timely reminder for people to be aware of the fire risks associated with using vehicles and other machinery in and around dry grass.
“Victoria is expected to experience a grassfire dominated fire season once again but we’re asking the community to do all it can to prevent these fires from starting,” he said.
“In many areas across the state, the risk of starting a fire from hot exhaust system or other hot parts from farm machinery is high,” he said.
“Even pulling over onto tall, dry grass on the side of the road during your travels could start a significant grassfire.
“Awareness is key to preventing grass and crop fires. We also want farmers to ensure their machinery and equipment are regularly inspected, maintained and cleaned.”
High risk and agricultural activities such as harvesting, grinding, welding, slashing or mowing can quickly ignite fires in hot, dry and windy conditions.
In the right conditions grassfires can move at speeds of up to 25km per hour and spread across roads and highways.
Victorians should stay prepared and informed this fire season; this means downloading the VicEmergency app and getting familiar with the new Fire Danger Rating System by checking the rating in your area.
For your safety, you need to understand your risk and plan ahead. Know what to do on hot, dry, windy days and plan for all situations.
To learn more about the risk of grassfires on the CFA website at cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/am-i-at-risk/grassfires-rural.
- If you’re using farm machinery or vehicles, ensure it is free from any faults and mechanical defects, fitted with an approved spark arrestor and carrying a water fire extinguisher.
- Be aware hot exhaust pipes, mufflers can start grassfires.
- The accumulation of grass around the underbody of vehicles can create a fire risk.
- If you live next to grassland and a grassfire starts, walk at least two streets back from the fire.
- If you live two or three streets away from grassland and a grassfire starts, stay where you are; Grassfires are unlikely to spread into built-up areas.
- Never drive if you can see smoke or fire. Thick smoke will make it hard to see and traffic jams and accidents are likely.
- Keep roads clear for emergency services.
- The most common cause of harvester and mower fires is material collecting on hot engine components such as the manifold, exhaust and turbocharger.
- The key to avoiding harvester fires is diligence in clean-down and inspection.
- Check the Fire Danger Rating by visiting www.cfa.vic.gov.au/warnings-restrictions/total-fire-bans-and-ratings.
- Download the VicEmergency app for real-time updates about emergencies across Victoria.