You own the fuel, but who owns the fire?Michael Eburn A C and Geoffrey J. Cary B
A ANU College of Law, 5 Fellows Road, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia.
B Fenner School of Environment and Society, 48 Linneaus Way, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
International Journal of Wildland Fire 26(12) 999-1008 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF17070
Submitted: 20 April 2017 Accepted: 26 September 2017 Published: 29 November 2017
Journal Compilation © CSIRO 2017 Open Access CC BY-NC-ND
In this paper, we argue that the statement ‘Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire’ implies a duty on landowners to manage fuel on their land to reduce the likelihood of bushfires, however started, from spreading to neighbouring properties. However, the notion ‘Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire’ has not been analysed from a legal perspective. This paper reviews Australian law to identify who is legally responsible for fire that starts on privately owned land. We argue that the correct interpretation of existing Australian law is: ‘Whoever owns the ignition owns the fire’ – that is, liability to pay for losses caused by bushfire has always fallen on those that intentionally start a fire, not on the owner of the fuel that sustains the fire. That legal conclusion could have dramatic implications for fire management policies. It will be shown that liability for starting a prescribed burn is clear-cut whereas liability for allowing accumulated fuel loads to contribute to the spread of fire is almost unheard of. As a result, we argue that the law is pushing landowners in a direction away from the policy direction adopted by all Australian governments. After identifying the current legal position, we recommend changes to align the law with the national policy direction.
Additional keywords: duty of care, law, liability, negligence.
ReferencesABC News (2013) ‘Fuel reduction burns debate after Tasmanian bushfires.’ Available at http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2013/s3769981.htm [Verified 1 November 2017]
ABC News (2014) ‘Emergency services call for law change to compel agencies to reduce fire risks.’ Available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-16/proposed-changes-to-wa-fire-management-laws/5394976 [Verified 1 November 2017]
Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) (2016) National position on prescribed burning. AFAC Publication no. 2036.
Byram GM (1959) Combustion of forest fuels. In ‘Forest fire: control and use’. (Ed. KP Davis) pp. 61–89. (McGraw-Hill: New York, NY, USA)
Cary GJ, Davies ID, Bradstock RA, Keane RE, Flannigan MD (2017) Importance of fuel treatment for limiting moderate-to-high intensity fire: findings from comparative fire modelling. Landscape Ecology 32, 1473–1483.
| Importance of fuel treatment for limiting moderate-to-high intensity fire: findings from comparative fire modelling.CrossRef |
Cheney NP (1989) Bushfires: their threat to life and property. In ‘Natural hazards and reinsurance’. (Eds J Oliver, NR Britton) pp. 60–69. (Stirling Offices (Australia) Ltd (Incorporated in NSW) and Disaster Management Studies Centre, Cumberland College of Health Science: Sydney, NSW, Australia)
Cheney NP, Gould JS, McCaw WL, Anderson WR (2012) Predicting fire behaviour in dry eucalypt forest in southern Australia. Forest Ecology and Management 280, 120–131.
| Predicting fire behaviour in dry eucalypt forest in southern Australia.CrossRef |
Cheney P, Sullivan A (2008) ‘Grassfires: fuel, weather and fire behaviour.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne, Vic., Australia)
Clode D, Elgar MA (2014) Fighting fire with fire: does a policy of broad-scale prescribed burning improve community safety? Society & Natural Resources 27, 1192–1199.
| Fighting fire with fire: does a policy of broad-scale prescribed burning improve community safety?CrossRef |
Council of Australian Governments (2011) ‘National strategy for disaster resilience.’ (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, ACT, Australia)
Doerr S, Santin C (2013) ‘Wildfire: a burning issue for insurers.’ (Lloyds: London, UK)
Eburn M (2012) ‘Australian bushfire cases: annotated litigation 1867–2011.’ (Bushfire CRC: Melbourne, Vic., Australia) Available at http://www.bushfirecrc.com/resources/external-resource/australian-bushfire-cases-annotated-litigation-1867-2011 [Verified 24 February 2017]
Ferguson E (2016) ‘Reframing rural fire management: report of the Special Inquiry into the January 2016 Waroona Fire.’ (Government of Western Australia: Perth, WA, Australia)
Fernandes PM, Botelho HS (2003) A review of prescribed burning effectiveness in fire hazard reduction. International Journal of Wildland Fire 12, 117–128.
| A review of prescribed burning effectiveness in fire hazard reduction.CrossRef |
Garrison W (2014) Wildfire experts share insight into Black Forest fire and importance of mitigation. Colorado Springs Gazette, 9 February 2014.
House of Representatives (2003) ‘Select Committee on the recent Australian bushfires.’ Commonwealth of Australia Hansard, Wednesday, 9 July 2003. (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, ACT, Australia)
Kobziar LN, Godwin D, Taylor L, Watts AC (2015) Perspectives on trends, effectiveness, and impediments to prescribed burning in the southern US. Forests 6, 561–580.
| Perspectives on trends, effectiveness, and impediments to prescribed burning in the southern US.CrossRef |
Kopperberg P (2003) The politics of fire management. In ‘3rd International Wildland Fire Conference’, 3–6 October 2003, Sydney, Australia. Available at http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/summit-2003/3-IWFC/Papers/3-IWFC-003-Koperberg.pdf [Verified 1 November 2017]
Legislative Council (2015) ‘General Purpose Standing Committee No. 5 Wambelong Fire.’ (Parliament of NSW: Sydney, NSW, Australia)
Moritz MA, Batllori E, Bradstock RA, Gill AM, Handmer J, Hessburg PF, Leonard J, McAffrey S, Odion DS, Schoennagel T, Syphard AD (2014) Learning to coexist with wildfire. Nature 515, 58–66.
| Learning to coexist with wildfire.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC2cXitFanu77P&md5=ce36b298954e3e2e3ed54dc193decb5cCAS |
Ockwell D, Rydin Y (2010) Analysing dominant policy perspectives: the role of discourse analysis. In ‘A handbook of environmental management’. (Eds JC Lovett D Ockwell) pp. 168–197. (Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK)
Penman TD, Christie FJ, Andersen AN, Bradstock RA, Cary GJ, Henderson MK, Price O, Tran C, Wardle-Johnson GMB, Williams RJ, York A (2011) Prescribed burning: how can it work to conserve the things we value? International Journal of Wildland Fire 20, 721–733.
| Prescribed burning: how can it work to conserve the things we value?CrossRef |
Price OF, Pausas JG, Govender N, Flannigan M, Fernandes PM, Brooks ML, Bird RB (2015) Global patterns in fire leverage: the response of annual area burnt to previous fire. International Journal of Wildland Fire 24, 297–306.
| Global patterns in fire leverage: the response of annual area burnt to previous fire.CrossRef |
Queensland Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services (2014) Media statement: ‘Operation Burn Cool activated.’ Available at http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2014/4/4/operation-cool-burn-activated [Verified 1 November 2017]
Tolhurst K (2013) Bushfire risk is not someone else’s problem. Australian Forest Grower 36, 19–22.
Varner JM, Steinau D, Ankersen TT, Putz FE (2001) Wildfire in Florida: issues of law and forestry practices. A report to the City of Waldo, Florida. (University of Florida Conservation Clinic) Available at https://www.law.ufl.edu/_pdf/academics/centers-clinics/clinics/conservation/resources/firepaper.pdf [Verified 21 August 2017]
Vercoe T (2003) Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire. Australian Forest Grower, Lift-out no. 65, spring 2003. (Armadale, Vic., Australia)
Yoder J (2012) Fuel for the fire. In ‘Wildfire policy: Law and economic perspectives’. (Eds KM Bradshaw and D Lueck) pp. 50–70. (RFF Press: New York, NY, USA)