New safety warnings after blaze sparked by campfire causes massive damage

Published: October 26, 2023

Most of Watagans National Park in New South Wales has re-opened after it was closed due to extensive damage caused by two bushfires earlier this month – at least one of which was started by a campfire.

The blazes burned through 329 hectares of the park which lies an hour south-west of Newcastle.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) says one of the fires, at Gap Creek Lookout, was caused by a campfire. The lookout remains closed, along with burnt areas of the park and some trails.

“A campfire at Gap Creek Lookout started the Gap Creek fire, which grew to over 100 hectares, drawing significant resources including firefighters, fire appliances and water bombing helicopters to contain it,” said NPWS Team Leader Rangers, Andrew Bayley.

“NPWS cleaned up camping gear, rubbish and a mattress left behind by campers – it looked like someone left in a hurry.”

Both fires started on total fire ban days, and the NPWS is reminding campers that it is a is dangerous and a serious offence to ignore total fire ban warnings. The RFS declares total fire bans on high-fire-risk days, which have factors such as high temperatures, strong winds and low air moisture.

“A total fire ban means no fires are to be lit in the open,” said Mr Bayley. “These fires were close to the communities of Cooranbong and Martinsville and required a large amount of time and firefighting resources from both RFS and NPWS to control.”

Firefighters have been monitoring the area around the fires and using a drone to search the edge of the burn for smouldering logs or underground stumps that could flare up.

Gap Creek campground will remain closed for visitor safety until fire-affected trees can be assessed. The NPWS says partly burnt trees can be incredibly dangerous and fall without warning in the days and weeks after a bushfire. An arborist assessment and treatment is now occurring before those areas can reopen.

  • Have you ever seen someone light a fire on the day of a total fire ban? Would you say something to them if you did? Comment below.

Are you a Grey Nomad member yet? Click here to find out about the discounts, competitions and other benefits on offer.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

We were stopped in a site off the Indian Ocean Drive near Lancelin WA 2022 and a young couple in a bongo van parked in front of us and proceded to light a fire. They were very close to the scrub and there was a screaming southerly blowing. It wasn’t a total fire ban but it was early November. Bush was very dry. I went over and spoke to them. They were German and didn’t know better. Once I explained to them the dangers of fire in our country they gladly extinguished the fire.

Thanks Rob, we have encountered the same.

You bet I would speak to them. I would also take note of their vehicle registration and notify the police.

We almost lost our caravan at the Deepwater Crossing campsite near Fruitbat Falls a few months ago on our trip to the Cape. An older man and his mate left a campfire unattended whilst they went off on to do a section of the Old Tele Track their motorbikes. The wind was gusting over 40kmph at the time and it wasn’t long before the fire spread to the nearby bush. Upon their return, they didn’t even try to help fellow campers contain the fire. They just packed up and left. All their details were handed to the police including photos but we are yet to find out if they were charged.

Years ago, I spoke with a rural landholder who was burning off some dead bushes on a ” fire ban ” day. The reply I got was quite surprising and a bit scary. I was told that he knew what he was doing and was permitted to have a fire on his land. I was then told to cause city idiots don’t know what they were talking about.
I promptly got back in my car and left the area as his apparent anger toward me was quite scary.

One of the disappointing things, especially at free camps, is the numerous campfires that have been lit everywhere about the site. You find a nice site beside a river somewhere and someone had lit a a fire there on the bank, you move on and there is another. Please limit the number of fires you light on bare ground, it’s not good for the environment nor other campers. We carry an aboveground fire pit.

I refuse to light a fire unless i can containit in a proper built fire pit. Flat on the ground is not good enough. Also a bucket of water at hand for those times when woops becomes Bugger me!!!

I’ve met a few campers during my days travelling who have lit fires in unsafe conditions. Usually I go to them and discuss the dangers. Sometimes they listen, other times they don’t. If it is during a fire ban time I walk over with a kettle and douse the fire for them. No hassle.

Less than 3% of wildfires are started by natural means the balance are the result of human activity, Australia is around 70% inhabitable, one of the driest continents on the planet, it’s been this way since the ice age yet some individuals in society believe we have influenced this situation.

I only occasionally have a fire now. Most times there is simply no need. There are too many of us roaming in the bush now to all have campfires. Yes a fire is nice but with a hotter, drier climate. perhaps we need a rethink our (romantic ?) ways: limit carbon emissions and particle pollutants, hacking at shade trees ( at free sites) for firewood, and bushfires.


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop