I’m pleased to report that my latest publication is now available. My colleague Geoff Cary, Associate Professor within the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the ANU, and I have co-authored a paper entitled ‘You own the fuel, but who owns the fire?’ It currently appears as a peer-reviewed and edited version before inclusion in a printed issue of the International Journal of Wildland Fire. You can download a free copy of the article from the IJWF Online Early webpage.
This paper is a development of a paper that we presented at the 2016 AFAC Conference in Brisbane (Eburn, M. and Cary, G., You own the fuel, but who owns the fire?, 1 September 2016). Following feedback from that conference we further developed the paper and the ideas in it. The abstract for the published paper now says:
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.
We hope that the paper will me a significant contribution to the policy debate around hazard reduction burns and the development of ‘shared responsibility’ for hazard management.