Hamilton district farmer Don Robertson knows all too well how quickly a fire caused by farm machinery can get out of hand.
His harvester started a fire after digesting foreign debris two years ago.
"I was fortunate enough that I had all the appropriate fire suppression equipment on board, including a fire unit in the paddock I was working," the Strathkellar farmer said.
"With the help of the local CFA I was able to contain the blaze.
"I was doing all of the right things. I was well prepared and was cropping on an appropriate day. If this situation unfolded on a total fire ban day, it could have been a very different ending."
With summer fast approaching, south-west police are warning they are setting their sights on anyone who engages in reckless around fire.
Victoria Police has this week launched Operation Safeguard - the annual police operation which aims to deter or reduce impact of intentional and recklessly lit fires across Victoria.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Grainger said the community could expect a highly visible police presence, particularly during fire danger periods.
"Our intelligence indicates that the risk of fire varies in different areas, which is why local police will use their local knowledge to prevent, detect and respond to fires," he said.
"Police will investigate and take action to catch those responsible when a fire is deemed suspicious, whether it was a deliberate or reckless action."
Anyone found guilty of recklessly or intentionally causing a bushfire faces a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Mr Grainger said while some fires were deliberately lit, what was of concern was the number of recklessly lit fires in recent years.
"It might seem like leaving a campfire unattended or operating machinery on a total fire ban day is not a huge issue. But, whether they are deliberately lit or not, the outcome is often the same," he said.
"This is disappointing, as the situation could have been avoided if people made better choices."
In the 2019/20 bushfire season 26 charges were laid for fire-related offences due to reckless behaviour.
The most common causes of recklessly lit fires are:
- Burning off,
- Car exhausts and machinery,
- Use of tools such as angle grinders and welding equipment out in the open,
- Bonfires and flares, and
- Farming machinery such as slashers and harvesters.
Mr Grainger said the community would play an incredibly important role in the prevention of bushfires and be key in reporting reckless or suspicious behaviour.
"The devastating impact from last year's bushfires are still very fresh for the affected communities and emergency service responders," he said.
"Be mindful of your activities during the fire season, especially during fire danger periods - it could be your actions that result in loss of life or property.
"We need to look out for each other but also hold each other to account when it comes to the behaviours that could lead to bushfires - we are all in this together."
Lighting a fire on a total fire ban day can attract a fine of up to $39,000 or up to two years in jail.
Anyone who witnesses suspicious behaviour as it is occurring should call Triple Zero (000) and anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or www.crimestoppersvic.com.au
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