DEPI's Land and Fire Regional Manager for Hume, Shaun Lawlor said that Victoria is one of the most bushfire prone areas in the world and that, unfortunately, about 10% of Victorian bushfires start from escaped campfires.
While campfires are nostalgically part of the overnight bushwalking experience, they are not necessary and can cause a massive amount of destruction if lit in other than an authorised fireplace. They leave long-term marks on the landscape where nothing will grow for decades. With a bit of wind, sparks can carry and start a bushfire quickly.
For cooking, fuel stoves are cleaner and cook faster.
Guidelines for campfires
- Check restrictions for the area. Campfires are not allowed in some areas of public land and are prohibited on a Total Fire Ban day.
- Only have a campfire where an authorised fireplace is provided.
- Clear an area of 3m around the campfire of flammable materials such as leaves and twigs.
- Ensure the fire is at least 3m away from tents and other camping equipment (especially flammable items such as gas cylinders and fuel containers).
- Keep your campfire to the minimum necessary for cooking or to keep warm. It should be no more than 1m² in dimension.
- If you intend having a campfire, bring your own firewood. Fallen and dead timber in our parks provides habitat for native creatures. Never cut or break branches from living trees or shrubs.
- It is illegal to light a campfire when wind speed more than 10km per hour. A guide for wind speed: if the wind is strong enough to carry sparks, don't light a campfire or allow one to remain alight.
- Never leave a campfire unattended, not even for a minute.
Have someone who has the capacity and means to extinguish the fire in attendance at all times.
The on-the-spot fine for leaving campfire unattended in Victoria is $433.
- Keep a big container of water handy.
- Extinguish the fire at night.
- Put your fire out properly using water, not soil.
Fires can smoulder under soil for up to 8 hours, and can not only reignite, but can be a danger to anyone coming in contact with them after you have gone.
- If your campfire is cool to touch it is safe to leave.
WARNING: If there is any warmth at all emanating from coals as your hand approaches them, it is neither safe to touch nor leave. (Use the back of your hand to test the level of heat emanating.)
Penalties for lighting fires illegally include large fines and possible imprisonment.
How to put out a campfire
- First, drown the campfire with water.
- With a shovel or other appropriate tool, stir the embers after they are covered with water and make sure that everything is wet.
- Feel the coals, embers and any partially-burned wood with the back of your hand. Everything, including the campfire surround (concrete, metal, rocks, etc) should be cool to the touch. Wet, stir and feel again to make sure material that was at the bottom is not hot.
- Repeat steps 1-4 until all the drenched ashes, logs, and the material the fireplace is constructed of are cool to the touch.
- When you think you are done, take an extra minute and add more water and stir and touch again as an extra precaution.
- Finally, check the entire campsite for possible sparks or embers, because it only takes one to start a bushfire.
There are lots of websites giving instructions about how to light and put our campfires. Visit them.