Fire regulations differ in various parts of Australia, but their intention—to prevent bushfires—does not. Each year, bushfires are unintentionally started by campers and bushwalkers.
All parts of Australia have provision for total fire bans. Be aware of the declaration of total fire bans in the district where you are walking and camping. On an extended trip, this generally means taking a small radio or seeking fire-ban information via mobile telephone. It is prohibited to light a campfire on a day of total fire ban, or to use a portable stove. Most parts of Australia have declared fire danger periods, which restrict burning off and similar activities, although campfires, portable stoves and barbecues may generally be lit during these periods provided:
- the fire is no larger than one square metre
- it is completely contained in a fireplace or trench
- the area for three metres around and above the fire is completely cleared of flammable material
- an adult is in attendance at all times
- there is sufficient water on hand in case of an emergency
- the fire is completely extinguished using water, not soil, before you leave.
If you do light a campfire, ensure it is completely extinguished and cold before you go to bed, and before you leave the site. Wind can spring up during the night and fan any embers into flammable material. Your tent could be the next one to get burned!
Many popular bushwalking and ski-touring areas have restrictions on the use of fires, to preserve habitat and reduce ecological damage. The restrictions designate ‘fuel stove only’ areas in many popular recreation areas. With the ever-increasing pressure on popular outdoor areas, the restrictions can only be expected to increase. In any case, campfires are less convenient for cooking, and are ineffective for warming cold or hypothermic people. If someone or a group is really cold, the best place for them is inside a tent in a sleeping bag, not shivering around a fire in the wind and rain with a burnt front and a freezing back.