Australian Bush Fires: A Tragic Reminder To Use Landscape Equipment Safely



It’s very difficult to watch news on the Australian bush fires and see the tragic toll it’s taking on lives, homes, animals, and the environment. According to news reports, 25 people have died since the fires started. On Sunday, the New South Wales Royal Fire Service reported there were 136 fires, 69 uncontained, which continue to burn across that region alone. Totals in New South Wales thus far include the loss of 1,588 homes, 153 facilities and 3,122 outbuildings (see chart).

The impact on Australia’s animal life is also staggering. Professor Chris Dickman at the University of Sydney estimates that 480 million animals have been affected. He asserts, “This figure only relates to the state of New South Wales. Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes. The figure includes mammals, birds and reptiles, and does not include insects, bats, or frogs. The true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher than 480 million.”

Safe Equipment Use For Fire Prevention

The CAL FIRE Tree Mortality Task Force at work. PHOTO: CAL FIRE

No stranger to wildfires, each year the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) responds to more than 1,600 preventable fires started by people using motorized equipment the wrong way. Unfortunately, lawn mowers, weed eaters, chain saws, grinders, welders, tractors, and trimmers can all spark a wildland fire. Whether working to create 100 feet of defensible space around a home or just mowing a lawn, those doing work in wildland areas need to use all equipment responsibly. Here are CAL FIRE’s 10 recommendations on equipment use for fire prevention:

  1. Do all yard maintenance that requires a gas or electrical motor before 10 a.m. Not in the heat of the day, or when the wind is blowing!
  2. Lawn mowers are designed to mow lawns. Never use lawn mowers in dry vegetation.
  3. Use a weed trimmer to cut down dry weeds and grass.
  4. Remove rocks in the area before you begin operating any equipment. A rock hidden in grass or weeds is enough to start a fire when struck by a metal blade.
  5. In wildland areas, spark arresters are required on all portable gasoline powered equipment including tractors, harvesters, chain saws, weed eaters, mowers, and All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).
  6. Keep the exhaust system, spark arresters, and mower in proper working order and free of carbon buildup. Use the recommended grade of fuel and don’t top off.
  7. Keep the engine free of oil and dust, and keep the mower free of flammable materials.
  8. In wildland areas, a permit may be required for grinding and welding operations, and spark shields may be required on equipment. Be sure to have 10 feet of clearance, a 46”round point shovel, and a backpump water-type fire extinguisher ready to use.
  9. Hot exhaust pipes and mufflers can start fires you won’t even see, until it’s too late! Don’t pull off into dry grass or brush.
  10. Keep a cell phone nearby and call 911 immediately in case of a fire.
    For more on the devastating effects extreme weather, click here. For more on how California deals with drought conditions in landscaping, click here.