Firies on high alert as mercury soars

Source: The Examiner

Firefighters are on high alert and equipment on stand-by as Tasmania's hot and windy weather conditions continue today.

The Bureau of Meteorology expects temperatures to rise up to 38 degrees celsius and the Tasmania Fire Service has declared it a day of total fire ban.

Bushfires are already burning at Molesworth in the state's South and north-east of Bicheno on the East Coast.

TFS chief officer Mike Brown said firefighters had worked hard on containment lines for those bushfires in anticipation of the dangerous conditions.

``It's going to be a hot day. It's going to be a windy day. We need people to have an understanding of what's happening around them. If you see smoke, respond to that. If you see fire, call 000,'' he said.

Of particular concern to firefighters are the lower Midlands, Derwent Valley and Coal River Valley.

BOM forecaster David James said the hot weather and northerly winds will not ease until early tomorrow.

This fire season is being described by Mr Brown as the worst the state has seen since the 1967 bushfires that killed 62 people and destroyed 1293 homes. 

``We'd have to say this is the most extreme fire season we've had across the state since 1967 because of the type of weather that we've had, the amount of fuel we've got at the moment, the dryness of the conditions and experience we've had over the last few weeks [fighting fires],'' he said.

Mr Brown praised firefighters who have managed to save further property loss, but welcomed an independent review the state government promises to carry out.

``We can't pretend for a minute that we've done everything perfect and it's really important that we have an independent review of our operations, so we can take those on board and make improve into the future,'' Mr Brown said.

``Personally, I think we need to do more fuel reduction burning . . . [but] we need to have that informed opinion on the need for fuel reduction burning and have that debate in the public arena once the dust has settled and the fire season is over.''

Spot fines for fires proposed 

ANYONE careless with fire could be fined hundreds of dollars under new laws designed to help save lives and property.

As Tasmanians deal with one of the worst bushfire seasons in its history, a bill will be put before State Parliament so firefighters have the power to issue spot fines of up to $650 to people who light fires without a permit, or on total fire ban days.

The change to law would also punish people who throw cigarette butts out the car window, or who fail to properly extinguish a camp fire.

Over the past three financial years, firefighters were called to 197 out-of-control fires lit without a permit and 255 fires lit on days of total fire ban.

Firefighters are now unable to punish such offences when they are not serious enough to warrant prosecution through the courts.

It is a situation that has frustrated the Tasmanian Fire Service for years, and prompted Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney to draw up a private member's bill.

The proposed law would allow firefighters to issue on-the-spot warnings, fines and force offenders to attend compulsory fire safety training.

It would only end up in court if a fine was contested.

Mr Gaffney plans to introduce the bill when Parliament resumes next month.

"We want the TFS resources and energy focused on fighting fires, not chasing offenders through the court system," Mr Gaffney said.

"This bill ensures that will happen; effectively filling the gap and punishing offences that cannot quite be prosecuted successfully through the courts."

Nearly two years' of work has gone into the bill, which Mr Gaffney worked on in close consultation with the TFS and Police and Emergency Management Minister David O'Byrne.

TFS community fire safety director Damien Killalea said the proposed law should raise community awareness and formalise the lessons that firefighters already carry out with such offenders.

"The TFS anticipates that this bill will contribute to a reduction in minor offences, improve public safety and promote awareness of fire safety in the community," Mr Killalea said.

If it passes Parliament, the Fire Service Amendment (Fire Offences) Bill will not impact on the prosecution and sentencing of arsonists.

Meanwhile, the state government is yet to respond to a call from Tasmania's Sentencing Advisory Council for arsonists to pay the bill for putting out fires they deliberately lit. The recommendation is one of 13 that the council handed down in December, and which Attorney-General Brian Wightman is still considering.

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