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Authorities fear Barmah National Park could become a fire hazard

Irresponsible campers or arsonists to be targeted by authorities.

TRENT HORNEMAN November 15, 2012 4:25am

Authorities are concerned a tinder dry Barmah National Park could become a fire hazard this summer.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment, CFA and Victoria Police have vowed to take a tough stance on irresponsible campers or arsonists after several fires early in the spring-summer season.

DSE land and fire regional manager Alan Dobson said the authorities were committed to catching people who deliberately lit fires, but also campers who left campfires unattended or abandoned to re-ignite.

Mr Dobson said authorities had found 11 unattended campfires in the Murray region during the Melbourne Cup weekend as well as a couple of deliberately lit fires in the Barmah Forest.

He said the fire risk in the Barmah Forest would escalate as the temperature rose.

‘‘We had a bit of rain in early October, which has promoted growth on the forest floor. So there is fuel out there which is starting to dry out and could become a risk during summer,’’ he said.

Mr Dobson said irresponsible farmers could face sanctions similar to those of arsonists if caught.

‘‘There is an element of negligence. The law treats arson and irresponsibility one and the same in this case,’’ he said.

‘‘DSE, CFA and Victoria Police have vowed to investigate every fire in the forests this season to determine a cause.

‘‘If there is evidence of irresponsibility or the fire being deliberately lit, the authorities will establish the point of ignition and then investigate those involved.’’

Mr Dobson said while it was hard to determine exactly how many fires were deliberately lit in the forest each summer, unattended or abandoned campfires accounted for about 10 to 20 per cent of all forest fires.

‘‘Lightning strikes are the most common cause, followed by machinery and then unattended fires,’’ he said.

Mr Dobson said DSE staff were slashing areas to reduce fire risk around assets near the forest.

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