THE Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, raised serious concerns about abandoned campfires in Gippsland during state parliament this week.

“Unattended and abandoned campfires from visitors to the region are a major risk to Gippsland residents and our environment,” Ms Bath, who is also the Assistant Shadow Minister for Public Land Use, said.

The largest bushfire started by an unattended campfire in Gippsland was the Tamboritha Dingo Hill Track blaze in 2018, which destroyed 10,839 hectares within the Great Alpine National Park.

Ms Bath said Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) officers discovered 32 abandoned campfires over the weekend immediately after the metro-regional border was lifted.

“Even with the coronavirus restrictions, in the past 12 months FFMVic officers discovered 169 abandoned campfires in Gippsland,” Ms Bath said.

“Patrols often only discover abandoned campfires after campers have left the area.

“With fire season upon us, these statistics are confronting, sending a shiver down the spine of many Gippslanders who are still recovering from last summer’s bushfires.

“A change in weather conditions or one spark flying into dry grass can ignite a bushfire, threatening wildlife and endangering communities.

“Community members are disturbed by recent vision of abandoned campfires in the Walhalla area, with one left burning beside a clearly marked ‘no camping’ sign.”

Ms Bath said previous parliamentary reports recommended increasing fines and strengthening enforcement for people who abandon campfires, especially on and before total fire ban days.

“A multi-faceted approach is needed, including a comprehensive state-wide education campaign in a variety of languages targeting metropolitan campers and an increase in on-the-spot fines is a must.

“It’s important all fire offences be treated with the seriousness that they deserve.

“Gippslanders have lived through horrific bushfires and they understand the enormous risk abandoned campfires present to their livelihood and the environment they cherish.

“With a surge in domestic tourists expected and an increase in metropolitan visitors discovering the beauty of Gippsland, the Andrews’ government has a responsibility to ensure our communities are not put at further risk.”

Authorities have this advice: campfires need to be extinguished with water, not soil, as fires can still smoulder under soil. If a fire is cool to touch, it is safe to leave.