John David Whittingham was charged for lighting a fire on his Doonan property during a complete fire ban while bushfires forced evacuations and destroyed homes in the region and statewide.
John David Whittingham was charged for lighting a fire on his Doonan property during a complete fire ban while bushfires forced evacuations and destroyed homes in the region and statewide.

Fire lighter pleads ignorance to ‘state of emergency’

A FIRE lighter claimed he had no clue about a complete ban when he lit a blaze on his Doonan property during a Queensland-wide “state of emergency”.

Magistrate Rod Madsen did not accept the excuse, and said John David Whittingham must have been “living under a rock” considering at that time, bushfires in Noosa and surrounds had forced evacuations and destroyed homes.

Prosecutor James Allen today told Maroochydore Magistrates Court that Rural Fire Service officers and police responded to triple-zero reports about a man lighting a fire about 8.40am on November 10.

At that time, a “state of emergency” had been declared due to bushfires in 42 local government areas, including the Sunshine Coast and Noosa Shire.

Noosa Council's first images in the aftermath of the Cooroibah bushfire that threatened homes last month.
Noosa Council's first images in the aftermath of the Cooroibah bushfire that threatened homes last month.

Mr Allen told the court Whittingham was burning off excess foliage and green waste to remove fire fuel on his property, and had raked around the fire with a hose nearby.

Attending officers reported there were tall trees nearby and they extinguished the blaze.

Mr Whittingham pleaded guilty to one count of lighting an unauthorised fire, which carries a maximum penalty of either six months’ jail or $7000.

Mr Allen said if not for Whittingham’s actions, officers could have been dealing with other matters, or resting during the busy period.

Mr Whittingham disputed that the officers had to put out the blaze, and said he did not require a permit given the size of the fire.

The extent of the Cooroibah bushfires is revealed in aerial photographs.
The extent of the Cooroibah bushfires is revealed in aerial photographs.

He told the court he had been routinely lighting fires to destroy green waste for about 16 years, and was “living in his own world” at the time of this one.

He claimed he had not received a notification from emergency services, did not watch the news or use social media and was therefore unaware of the ban.

Mr Madsen said the complete fire ban “trumped” any provisions regarding permits, and told Mr Whittingham that emergency services were not obliged to “alert” him of any bans.

“I find it difficult that you would not be aware of a total fire ban, given what’s happening in that part of the area,” Mr Madsen said.

“What about the fact houses were lost, people were evacuated from houses?

“I live in Buderim, I have a fire pit, I know I am not allowed to light a fire... and I don’t get any messages.

“You probably have to be living under a rock to not know about a fire ban.”

Mr Madsen said the impact of the fires was apparent across the region and the defendant, as an electrician and member of a community, would no doubt have engaged with other people at some point and become aware of what was happening.

Mr Madsen said “ignorance of the law” was not a defence.

Taking all circumstances into account, Mr Madsen fined Whittingham $700 and did not record a conviction.