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Lighting of Fires in the Open Air

This charge is generally laid in situations where a person lights a fire outside that damages property or endangers life, or where a person lights a fire and leaves it unattended.
lighting of fires in the open air
Lighting of fires in the open air is a summary offence heard in the Magistrates’ Court.
Examples of Lighting of Fires in the Open Air
  • A person lights a fire in an area of their backyard which is close to a neighbours yard where there is a children’s party.
  • A person lights a fire and then incorrectly believing it is being attended to, leaves the area where the fire is burning.
  • A person lights a fire that damages a neighbours property.
The legislation for this offence can be found on section 11 of Summary Offences Act 1966.

Lighting of fires in the open air

  1. Except as provided in subsection (2), a person must not—
    1. light or use a fire in the open air or carry when lighted any flammable material resulting in the destruction, damaging or endangering of the life or property of others; or
    2. leave a fire in the open air which that person has lighted or of which that person is in charge without leaving another person in charge of that fire.
    Penalty: 25 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months or both.
  2. Subsection (1) does not apply to the owner or occupier of any land or a person acting under the direction of an owner or occupier of any land who burns any grass, stubble, weeds, scrub, undergrowth or any vegetation, wood or other flammable material in an area of land if—
    1. a fire-break of not less than 3 metres and cleared of all flammable material has been prepared around the perimeter of the area of land; and
    2. at least two hours before burning is commenced, notice of intention to burn has been given to each owner or occupier of land contiguous to the area of land.
  3. This section does not apply in the country area of Victoria within the meaning of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 during a fire danger period within the meaning of that Act.
  4. This section does not affect the right of any person to sue for and recover at common law or otherwise compensation for or in respect of any damage caused by reckless or negligent use of fire.1
“Have you been accused of lighting a fire in the open air?”
Elements of the offence
In essence to prove this charge the Police must show that an accused lit or used a fire in the open air; that the accused left the fire unattended; and that because of the fire the life of another was endangered or the property of another was damaged.
  • You were not responsible for lighting the fire
  • The fire did not endanger the life or property of someone else
  • You put someone else in charge of the fire
Questions in cases like this
  • Were you responsible for lightening the fire?
  • Had notice been given to your neighbours?
  • Was the fire close to any property or people?

If convicted of Lighting of Fires in the Open Air (s11 of the Summary Offences Act 1966), the accused may face a maximum penalty of 25 penalty units ($4,030.00 at the time of print) or imprisonment for 12 months, or both.

Deciding on whether to plead guilty or not has consequences for you and should be made after proper discussion with a criminal lawyer.

In serious cases where the fire has caused extensive damage, the culprit may receive a prison sentence. However in most cases one is likely to receive a fine or a Community Corrections Order.