A handy guide to total fire bans (TOBAN) and BBQ in Australia
It's nearly Christmas. For Australians this means a blurred mix of ocean or red dirt, hot summer weather, present opening with the family, catchups with friends at the beach for sundowner beers, and of course Christmas food. Everyone is on holidays and the drinks are flowing, life is good.
A favourite memory was an orphans Christmas day catchup about 3 years ago. We were standing in the kid's splash pool talking and drinking because it was so hot. The topic of conversation was a friend's holiday house near Apollo Bay that was under fire threat. A massive fire had torn through the area and it was likely that his house would be taken. The good news came through around 8pm that it had narrowly diverted and the house was safe. Many others weren't so lucky. The takeaway is fire season is part of our lives and something not to be lightly reckoned with.
The Christmas fire season can be a bittersweet and perhaps even anxious time for the BBQ smoking community. As I write this Qld is facing down over 160 fires across the state and towns have been evacuated. Total Fire Bans (TOBAN) are declared for much of the state. So it raises the much discussed question of what can and can't you do during a TOBAN. Each state has different regulations and authorities, so we did some research to come up with a handy guide.
The answer is NO solid fuel BBQs on a total fire ban day.
How do we find out if its a TOBAN?
There are a range of great emergency service apps and websites that make it easy to keep in touch with what is happening to your region
Qld CFA advisory - load it up, choose your region and then bookmark it on your phone for quick access. They announce a TOBAN the night before.
Northern Territory Fire Ban Notifications - it actually took a long time to find this, but this is where you can read TOBAN notifications!
NSW Fire Ban Map - Provides a map and color coded region guide for easy access
Tasmanian Fire Ban Map - Provides a map and color coded region guide for easy access
Vic Emergency App - This is a life saving app to install on your phone. You can configure your local warning area and just loading it up will show you fire bans and other critical events in your region.
Emergency Western Australia Website - Awesome desktop site like the Vic Emergency App where you can pop in your location and get filtered emergency alerts.
SA CFA Map and Advisory - there is a map and you can bookmark the page relating to your local region for quick access. They also kindly provided this awesome "BBQ Guy" image:
What should we do instead?
It certainly makes planning for Christmas a bit trickier if you were planning a hearty American BBQ feast, so we've come up with some suggestions:
- Do a Paul Hogan and chuck a shrimp onto the gas or electric BBQ. They're permitted! Enjoy some tasty seafood on the grill!
- Pay a caterer to do the cooking, then reheat on the day. Caterers using indoor restaurant facilities can keep cooking and many offer pick up services on Christmas Eve. A quick water bath of the vac bag or quick warmup in the oven and you're ready to go!
- Organise a sit down dinner at a restaurant. We love doing this as there's no family stress and no dishes to wash!
Plan ahead, don't stress out about if or if not you'll be able to smoke up, kick your feet up and enjoy the holiday break!
What Can I Do To Help?
If learning the above has fired you up, perhaps because you've been inadvertently doing the wrong thing in the past, then here are a few interesting ways you can help:
- Donate your time / effort / money to your local CFA
- Spread the word through friendly advice to folk, send them this article if you'd like to be diplomatic!
- Qld CFA fire ban declarations are a bit vague, ie 'Fires within a properly constructed barbecue are permitted provided they are not left unattended'. They state 'all open fires are prohibited' but do say 'gas and electric barbecues may be used' on TOBAN days. We called a Qld CFA fire warden for confirmation and received very very clear (and direct) confirmation that properly constructed gas or electric BBQs were permitted but solid fuel BBQs in the open air are not in any circumstances.
- All the CFA sites refer to open air, particularly the NSW RFS who suggest solid fuel BBQs are permitted if its not open air. We called the NSW RFS and their definition of open air is any structure that is not fully enclosed (any open doors, windows or other openings). So pergolas, sheds with open doors, verandahs or sun rooms with open windows are all open air environments and do not satisfy the exclusion. Another way of explaining it: no solid fuel BBQs unless you are running your smokers INSIDE a kitchen with the doors & windows closed on a TOBAN
- Armchair lawyers please don't bother contacting us to argue, call your local CFA warden. They're exceptionally awesome people who volunteer their time to save communities from fire. They're also going to tell you what I've told you but less politely.