This section sounds reasonable enough. In real terms, the Rural Fire Service can seize power similar to ASIO.
Just how has this harmless sounding legislation taken away so much?
A strange pattern leads to a Section 44…
It ignores bushfire science, bushfire training manuals and locals jumping up and down because once again they are in danger…
Section 44s are declared once small fires grow into big ones… with no early all-out effort to put them out.
Instead of water bombing and groundcrews to put fires out quickly, a small effort is ordered so that fires grow bigger if there is no weather change.
Then, backburning and drops of incendiary devices make fires even bigger.
They spread if the inevitable summer cycle of hotter days takes hold.
A Section 44 is declared once fires reach dangerous proportions to become wildfires.
Helicopters are called in to water bomb, but not enough to put out the fires.
More arrive, but days and even weeks pass with never enough aircraft to quell the flames.
If the flames are low, RFS Air Attack Supervisors order helicopters to fly in later in the morning.
If the fires are high and reaching dangerous proportions, the aircraft arrive earlier, but it is of course beyond their control then.
More and more helicopters arrive as the fires continue to build.
A fleet of 14 with two skycranes costs insurance companies and taxpayers about one million dollars for two days.
Insurance companies foot 72% of the bill, having to pay a levy similar to the way we pay for electricity.
Under the section, an RFS helicopter can land on your property without permission and take water from dams, creeks, rivers and swimming pools.
The NSW - RFS is under no obligation to replace your water, leaving many to complain of financial difficulties.
Two skycranes dump about an Olympic pool full in two days.
RFS crews can take your vehicles, bulldoze your fences and destroy any property it deems fit.
You can also be ordered off or to sit idly by as RFS crews do whatever they want.
Not so long ago, at Peter Spencer's property on the NSW southern highlands, RFS intervention brought two giant fireballs to his native forest.
One escaped into national park. According to locals, a NSW Government media release blamed Mr Spencer for the escaped fireball, saying he lit an illegal hazard reduction that went out of control.
The story ran on radio and in the local newspaper according to Mr Spencer.
Press statements said that Mr Spencer would be sued for the damage.
He said his hazard reduction was legal and safe until the RFS elbowed him out.
"I felt perplexed how something so simple could have been carried out well by me and my nine-year-old son.
"It went out of control once RFS vehicles moved in and declared a Section 44.
"It doesn't make sense. They obviously didn't know how to do a burn."
At one critical stage, about 15 RFS vehicles were on his property he said.
Peter Spencer is one case in many of landholders complaining of the section's bitter costs.
But it sounds so harmless…
RURAL FIRES ACT 1997 - SECT 44
44 Commissioner's responsibility
(1) The Commissioner is to take charge of bush fire fighting operations and bush fire prevention measures
and to take such measures as the Commissioner considers necessary to control or suppress any bush fire in any part of the State if, in the opinion of the Commissioner:
(a) a bush fire has assumed or is likely to assume such proportions as to be incapable of control or suppression by the fire fighting authority or authorities
in whose area or locality it is burning, or
(b) the prevailing conditions are conducive to the outbreak of a bush fire likely to assume such proportions, or
(c) a bush fire is not being effectively controlled or suppressed by the fire fighting authority or authorities in whose area or locality it is burning, or
(d) a bush fire is burning in a place that is not the responsibility of any fire fighting authority.
(2) The Commissioner may delegate the Commissioner's functions under this Division (other than this power of delegation) to an officer or member of a rural fire brigade, an officer or member of New South Wales Fire Brigades, officers of the Forestry Commission, officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service or any other person.
(3) The Commissioner is not subject to the control and direction of the Bush Fire Co-ordinating Committee in exercising the Commissioner's functions under this Division but must, in exercising those functions, take into consideration any relevant bush fire management plan and, in the case of managed land, any relevant plan of the authority responsible for the managed land of which the Commissioner is aware.
Thanks go to Dr Christine Finlay who hold s a PhD in Bushfires and has the hands on experience of working with the ground volunteers while producing her phD and produced this explanation of tool most used by the RFS Homebush Bunker management team.
You may form your own opinion as to how useful this act can be and the many uses it has.