News

How wide can a fire break be in Qld? Work on 10 metres, says DNRM

James Nason, March 24, 2017
Fire breaks on Chess Park, Eidsvold.

A cleared fire break on Chess Park, Eidsvold.

 

Yesterday we asked how wide a fire break can be in Queensland, after a Central Queensland landholder was ordered to pay almost $1 million fines and Government legal expenses for building fire breaks up to 40 metres wide.

Following a destructive fire on his Eidsvold cattle property soon after buying it in 2011, Michael Baker sought advice from 32 Queensland Government staff before commencing work to create fire breaks on his 9242 hectare land holding.

His lawyer Tom Marland said Mr Baker received conflicting answers from Government officers on allowable widths, and ultimately drew from provisions within the Vegetation Management Act that indicate fire breaks can be “1.5 times the height of the tallest trees”.

The “1.5 times the tallest tree” is based on providing a buffer large enough so that if tree adjacent to a fire break burns and falls across the fire break, it will not cause the fire to continue on the other side of the fire break.

Working on an average tree height of 25m, Mr Baker developed fire breaks to a width of 40 metres and began clearing under Queensland’s self-assessable clearing codes without a permit.

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Two years after commencing the clearing work, the Department notified Mr Baker to say his breaks were too wide, and that he had been illegally remnant vegetation without a permit, and then commenced actions to investigate and prosecute him

This week, Mr Baker was found guilty of breaching the Vegetation Management Act and illegally clearing remnant vegetation, earning him a fine of $267,000 and an order to pay Government’s investigation and court costs of some $750,000 – the biggest penalty in the 18 year history of the State’s Vegetation Management Act.

In the wake of that outcome Beef Central yesterday asked Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources and Mines if it could provide clarity to landholders on how wide a fire break is allowed to be.

The short answer? 10 metres is basically about as wide as fire breaks can be alongside a fence, road or vehicular track, according to the Department. If landholders believe clearing of greater widths is justified, a development permit will be needed.

The longer answer, as provided by a DNRM spokesperson, follows:

“Vegetation clearing on freehold land for the purposes of essential management can be undertaken under the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009, including clearing for fire management lines and firebreaks.

“The Regulation allows:

  • necessary fire management lines to be established “if the maximum width of the clearing for the fire management line is 10 metres
  • necessary firebreaks to protect infrastructure other than a fence, road or vehicular track, if the maximum width of the firebreak is equivalent to 1.5 times the height of the tallest vegetation adjacent to the infrastructure, or 20 metres, whichever is the greater; and
  • necessary firebreaks to remove or reduce the imminent risk that the vegetation poses of serious personal injury or damage to infrastructure. An example of this may include a tree that has been damaged by a storm with broken branches overhanging areas used by people.

“If clearing within regulated vegetation for this purpose is greater than the essential management limitations, or covered by another exemption under the regulation, a development permit is required.”

In response to Mr Baker’s specific case, the spokesperson made the following remarks:

“Mr Baker contacted the department in 2011 to seek advice about managing vegetation on his property, but continued to illegally clear vegetation without a permit despite being given clear information about his responsibilities.

“Any landholder who is unsure of their requirements is encouraged to call the department on 135 VEG (13 58 34) to speak with a vegetation management officer or email [email protected].”

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Comments

  1. John Hennessy, December 30, 2019

    My idea of a firebreak is that they should be wide enough so that the tallest tree will not fall on the road from either side if burnt in a fire, and likewise for a fence or pathway. I include this suggestion for main roads and highways and including lesser used roads anywhere. This would mean the loss of a lot of trees, but would provide firebreaks that may slow a fire down and also keep roads open for people to use to escape and for the firies to be able to keep accessing fire fronts. How many lives are lost from cars running into trees on the side of the road and how many lives have been lost from residents trying to flee a fire only to find the escape road closed by a fallen tree.

  2. Michael Hull, December 30, 2019

    As time has shown and the government is far short from commonsense that a 20 meter firebreak is nowhere near adequate to suppress stop manage fires they need to be around the 90 meter mark to be able to successfully hold a fire if things are working the right way and I believeThat between firebreaks on fenceline’s there should be fire breaks throughout your paddocks on big properties so you can protect and stop bye

  3. Colin White, March 30, 2017

    This decision is crazy. QFF must take some action to establish a fund to cover cost of appeal.

  4. Rob Hendrick, March 27, 2017

    Thank you Beef Central for highlighting this.
    This outcome is a disgrace and needs to be appealed.
    I first saw this reported in the city media, and one thought that he must have whole-sale cleared the area without any permission. Obviously mis-reported by people who don’t know what they are reporting on.
    The pictures tell the story – clearly fire breaks, and not whole-sale clearing as you might think.
    Once, the old DPI & DNR was there to help the man on the land, not support trying to send them to jail.
    Field staff were once held in high esteem, this kind of action has to bring the department and their staff into dis-repute in the bush.
    This is where the grower organisations such as Agforce, NFF etc need to grow a backbone and get involved and support this man instead of enjoying cosy relationships with the protagonists.
    Can we expect that to happen?

  5. Terry Campbell, March 27, 2017

    I would have thought since he has already experienced a devastating fire due to the governments inaction and inadequate provision he would have grounds to appeal this decision.

    I hope he does.

    The fact that these decisions are continually made by inexperienced people the country over is insanity.

  6. Drew Fowles, March 26, 2017

    Grass fire or timber if it’s hot and windy there’s been occasions when a grader can’t outrun them. If we should learn anything just look at the prairie fires that hit the USA this year and to think a 10 mtr gap is going to stop something like that. Again another example of people who have no idea thanks Queensland government for burying your head in the sand. I hope it never costs us lives, but I have my doubts.

  7. Jacqueline Curley, March 26, 2017

    Having fought bushfires I know from experience that 10 metre firebreaks are inedequate. We are well aware the current policy is not aligned to science of firefighting technology or interested in farmers or their employees safety and welfare. This is green appeasement only to the detriment of agricultural pursuits once again.

  8. Alice Greenup, March 25, 2017

    Our 2015 fires, lit by lightening on Jan 25, in 40 degree heat, leapt roads 20 foot in the air as fireballs, required water bombing from planes to subdue. 10 metres is laughable. After losing thousands of acres ourselves at Eidsvold this year to a neighbour’s fire – a 40 metre break would have been a god send.

  9. Michael J. VAIL, March 24, 2017

    Experience (for those that have actually fought a fire) and common sense, says that a fire break in timber land should be at least as wide as the timber is high; to reduce the likelihood of the fire crowning in the tree-tops.

    As for a fire-break on open savannah, the ideal is two fire-breaks with a patch of grass in the middle which could be burnt/back on in the case of an approaching fire; with the wild-card factor being whether it is buffel-grass (which will burn with a green methane-like flame and explode forward like a wave crashing on a rock, when driven by wind) or wide-spaced tussocks of Mitchell grass.

    I have personally witnessed the above and also a wirly-wind lifting a fire over a narrow fire-plough track.

    Tried to out run a buffel-grass fire in a Toyota Landcruiser, sans water tank, to get around the front of a fire that had jumped a narrow fire-plough track. This fire made its own energy, it was exploding ahead of itself, and we were travelling at around 45-miles an hour (roughly as fast as a good horse can gallop) and we had Buckley’s Chance!

    Consider Putting the NRM decision makers (a some Magistrates/Judges) regularly into an actual fire situation, and give them the experience to understand: or give ex-Graziers a supervisory role over these obviously inexperienced form-fillers!

  10. Mike Buchanan, March 24, 2017

    This is official confirmation: The south eastern border of La-La land is at Coolangatta.

  11. Eion McAllister, March 24, 2017

    One would now think that as the Department is stating a limit of 10 metres as the allowable limit under self assessment that they are willing to back that decision up by accepting or assuming liability for the damage caused to holdings by fire which crosses such a break. As a landholder is effectively restricted in the level of preparation one can make for mitigation of fire risk by this Government requirement, then it stands to reason that any damage to property, livestock or injury to persons which is a consequence of a fire crossing a firebreak the width of which is specified by Regulation, is clearly a forseeable consequence and one where a landholder is forcibly unable to take adequate preparations to minimise risk to themselves, their property, livestock or employees. I have a close friend who is a University trained forester and who worked for the Forestry Division of the Queensland Government some years ago and he advises that a 10 metre firebreak in dry schlerophyll forest and woodland is totally inadequate for it to be effective . When the requirements of Government Legislation and Regulation are met and are a contributing factor to harm to property or person then a claim against the government for damages is justified and insurers would arguably have the right to go them for the lot as the Government has tied the hands of their clients in managing and mitigating the risk that the insurers take on.
    The only thing that will change this ridiculous situation will be when the government’s idiocy starts costing taxpayers money via compensation and they bleed either big , big dollars or voters recognise that they are being sold a pup.

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