Bushfire is a natural part of the Northern Territory (NT) landscape and environment. The northern fire season runs from April to November, so it is time to have your fire breaks and management plans up to date. We’ve witnessed the devastation of bushfires in southern states of Australia this year during their fire season and do not want any similar occurrences here.
Controlled burns have already started across the top end and plumes of smoke in the sky south of the Berrimah line are now a familiar sight again. Planned fuel reduction burning takes place early in the fire season each year to create zones which slow the spread of late-season fires.
Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS) is responsible for fire management in urban regions and towns, in areas declared as Emergency Response Areas (ERAs). Landowners require a Permit to Burn all year round within their declared ERAs. The NTFRS incorporates stations and volunteer brigades throughout the Territory, including areas such as Darwin, Katherine, Nhulunbuy, Palmerston, Tennant Creek and Humpty Doo. These agencies are responsible for issuing Permits to Burn. Generally, permits are available from December to May (the NT wet season) depending on the prevailing weather conditions although no permits are allowed within municipal areas such as Darwin or Palmerston.
Bushfires NT is the lead government agency for rural bushfire management in the NT under the Bushfires Management Act 2016 (NT) (the BMA) . Under its jurisdiction, there are five Fire Management Zones (FMZs) in the NT:
- Vernon Arafura
- Barkly and Alice Springs.
Fire Protection Zones
Certain areas within the FMZs with greater numbers of assets and smaller property sizes are declared as Fire Protection Zones (FPZ) within which more stringent controls are imposed to reduce the risk of bushfires in those areas. The owner or occupier of land within a FPZ is legally required to install and maintain a firebreak around the perimeter of the land and around any house or other permanent structure on the land (s68 BMA). The penalty for not doing so is $3140 plus $314 per day for each day the offence continues. A landowner within a FPZ may also be required to prepare and submit a fire management plan (s70(1) BMA) which sets out arrangements for the mitigation, management and suppression of fire on their land.
Fire Danger Period
Bushfires NT can declare a Fire Danger Period over an area within an FPZ if it is determined that weather conditions have placed the area at risk. This declaration is advertised in local newspapers and carries stringent fire management requirements to the declared areas, which includes some of the requirements applied to a FPZ. For example, it is an offence to light a fire (other than a small fire for purposes such as cooking or boiling water) in the open air in a FPZ or during a Fire Danger Period unless a written permit is obtained from a Fire Control Officer or Fire Warden.
A Fire Ban Period can be declared by Bushfires NT for up to 24 hours over a particular area if it is determined that the land or weather conditions will make it difficult to control a fire. This ban imposes a restriction on lighting fires in the open and all permits to burn are void during a fire ban period. The announcement of a fire ban is made on the local radio and the Bushfires NT social media websites.
Fire Controls in all areas
All landowners have a responsibility to protect property on the land from fire and stop the fire from spreading (s90(1) BMA, Fire and Emergency Act 1996 (NT) s33). If a fire is unable to be controlled or stopped from spreading to other land, the owner is required to notify a Fire Control Officer or Warden and all neighbours on nearby properties where the fire may spread (s90(2) BMA).
It is an offence in the NT to light a fire in a way that may cause damage to another person or their property. The maximum penalty is a $78,500 fine or imprisonment for five years (s91(4) BMA).
HWL Ebsworth Lawyers