AUSTRALIA – More than 3500 fines and warnings have been handed out to West Australians for failing to clear firebreaks, prompting firefighters to warn they are risking lives and homes.
Landowners in Perth and regional WA, some in bushfire-prone areas, were hit with more than 840 fines and 2700 work orders over the summer season according to councils surveyed by The West Australian.
United Firefighters Union State secretary Lea Anderson said the numbers were alarming and suggested people were complacent about the risks.
“The figures do cause some alarm to the members of my union and they should cause alarm to the (State) Government and the broader community,” she said.
“Too often members of our community become complacent and that complacency costs resources and it can cost lives.”
Ms Anderson also criticised councils for not better enforcing landowners’ responsibilities.
“I’m concerned, based on those stats, that they (councils) are not taking their responsibilities seriously enough and if the enforcement powers that they have aren’t being used, they aren’t effective,” she said.
WA Local Government Association president Lynne Craigie said local government had a strict compliance regime for landowners to comply with for fire mitigation works.
“In most cases local government provide landholders a number of notifications before penalties are applied,” she said.
“We would challenge the ongoing risk to the community from non-compliance as in most cases part of the penalty to the landholder is for the local government to organise a contractor to complete the works.”
Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan said property owners must treat bushfires as an “ever-present danger”.
“I would also remind those homeowners that in most of the locations it is volunteers, your friends, neighbours and even family who will come to fight the fire, and without firebreaks you are putting them and the rest of the community in even more danger,” he said.
WA has had 1218 bushfires this summer so far, compared with 1313 in the same period last year.
The West Australian surveyed 18 metropolitan and regional councils for a snapshot of the number of fines and work orders issued this summer.
Those councils, as far south as the Shire of Bridgetown and as far north as the Shire of Gingin, collectively handed out 845 fines and 2723 work orders or warnings since roughly the start of summer.
Landowners face fines of $250 if they fail to prepare firebreaks, which can provide critical access for firefighters battling bushfires.