A bushfire management plan may be viewed as optional for many landholders, but neglecting your fire management obligations may put you and your business at significant risk. Discover the crucial reasons why the implementation and adherence to a bushfire management plan are important to safeguard you and your business.

Managing any land that carries bushfire risks brings a spectrum of responsibilities. However, neglecting these obligations can lead to dire consequences, including civil and criminal responsibility. If a fire breaks out on your property and the property has not been properly managed, there is a risk of potential negligence, trespass or nuisance claims. A simple but effective step you can take to mitigate potential liability is the creation and implementation of a comprehensive bushfire management plan.

Understand your bushfire management legal obligations

A landowner's legal responsibility extends to managing bushfire hazards on their property. In the event of a fire, you must promptly report it and take all reasonable steps to prevent it from spreading.1 Liability for the spread of a fire is determined under the general laws of negligence, trespass or nuisance and compliance with a permit does not serve as an adequate defence against damages claims or from criminal negligence.

However, in Queensland, common law civil and criminal liability generally only arises if the person who lit the fire under a permit can be shown to have been acting recklessly or maliciously.2

Actions constituting 'negligent fire management' include inappropriate fire lighting (including camp fires), 3 failing to monitor4 or prevent fires from escalating 5 (even in circumstances where you are not the cause of the fire (such as after a lightning strike or the spread of a fire lit by a trespass)),6 or creating conditions conducive to spontaneous combustion (i.e. by not minimising combustion loads).7

Developing a bushfire management plan is not just good practice; it's a necessity, especially for those in bushfire prone areas as identified by the State Planning Policy. However, the creation of a plan alone falls short. Ensuring that all employees and contractors are not only aware of the plan but also compliant with it is imperative. Failure to implement or adequately train personnel on the plan may lead to personal liability for contributory negligence and also result in adverse insurance consequences if it is determined that your duty of care to prevent fires from escaping your land was not adequately discharged.

Plan and act to prevent liability

It is crucial to be aware that planning alone does not absolve responsibility; active measures are required to minimise fire risks and ensure proper response procedures are followed. Failure to implement a bushfire management plan or integrate it into day-to-day business practices may expose landowners to liability for any fires that occur on their property, irrespective of the cause. Taking proactive steps for fire management is essential to guarantee a coordinated and effective response in the event of a fire outbreak and to prevent potential liabilities.

Seek advice – assess your fire management plan

If you would like us to assess whether a fire management plan is essential for your business, are considering updates to your current fire management plan, or seeking a general discussion on your fire management obligations, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our planning and environment team.


1 Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 67.

2 Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 74.

3 Mullholland v Baker [1939] 2 All ER 253; Pickin v Hesk [1954] 4 DLR 90.

4 Bugge v Browne (1919) 26 CLR 110; Wise Bros v Commissioner of Railways (1947) 75 CLR 59.

5 Ibid.

6 Goldman v Hargrave [1967] 1 AC 645 (P.C.); 115 CLR 458.

7 Vaughhan v Menlove (1837) 3 Bing NC 468; 132 ER 490.

© Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers

Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.

This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers.