What does a total fire ban mean? What you need to know this summer

A grassfire rages in a dry yellow field

Nicola Dowse

Posted January 03, 2023

Learn what you can and can’t do after a 'total fire ban' has been declared, and how it’s different from a fire danger period.

There’s a lot to love about summer in Victoria, but the season’s warmer, drier conditions loved by beachgoers and cricket fans also have a sting in their tail.

“Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world, so even an average fire season can have devastating consequences,” says CFA Chief Officer, Jason Heffernan.

The 2022-2023 fire season will be the state’s first under Australia’s new fire danger ratings system, which has undergone its biggest update in 60 years to make it easier to understand and act upon.

Total fire bans remain a feature of how the state protects itself from bushfires, with strict rules around what you can and can’t do during these days.  

Living with Fire - Kate & Phil | RACV

Total fire bans and fire danger periods: what’s the difference?

Fire danger periods and total fire bans work hand-in-hand to reduce fire dangers risk but are a little different.  

Fire danger periods run for several weeks to months and have set start and end dates. These dates vary each year depending on location (the CFA declares them separately for each municipality) and climatic conditions, such as how much rainfall has occurred. The CFA website is updated regularly with fire danger period dates for individual municipalities. Fires are restricted during these times as the chance of a fire starting is much higher

Total fire bans are days within the fire danger periods that have an especially high risk of a fire starting. They are declared by the CFA’s Chief Officer and determined by factors such as the weather, existing fires, the current fire danger rating and resources. Fires are heavily restricted during these bans, as is the use of equipment with a high likelihood of igniting a fire. Total fire bans can occur in both Melbourne and regional Victoria.  

You can find out whether there is a total fire ban each day by visiting the CFA website.


The new Australian Fire Danger Rating System, showing four levels; moderate, high, extreme and catastrophic

Australia has a new Fire Danger Rating System but total fire bans will still be used to reduce bushfire risks. Photo: CFA.

What can’t you do during a total fire ban?

Whether you’re at home, on a farm, or holidaying in a regional area it’s important you know what is and isn’t allowed during total fire bans. Failing to uphold restrictions can result in fines and even imprisonment. 

At home

You might be tempted to grill some steaks or snags during summer, but barbecue rules apply during a total fire ban. The barbecue in question must be either commercially manufactured exclusively for cooking, or must be a permanently fixed structure made of stone, metal or another non-flammable material. It must also be powered by either gas or electricity. 

Make sure there is no flammable material within three metres of the barbecue, that a hose with connected water supply is nearby and that an adult is present while the barbecue is alight. Solid fuel barbecues that use wood, heat beads and other solid fuel types are banned, including outdoor rotisserie spits. 

Put off any yard work that requires a chainsaw, lawnmower or trimmer where possible during total fire ban days. It’s not banned but should using these tools should only be done out of necessity as they can potentially start fires under the conditions. Use only defect-free equipment fitter with spark arresters and have a fire extinguisher on hand.  

On farms

Burning off is strictly prohibited on total fire ban days, even if you’d previously been given a permit to do so. Any existing fires must be completely extinguished prior to the total fire ban day starting. 

Common farm machinery powered by heat engines like tractors, excavators, slashers and earth-moving and road-making tools should be avoided on total fire ban days, particularly within nine metres of crops and vegetation. 

If you must use such equipment on a total fire ban day, make sure it’s free of faults, has a spark arrester, turbocharger or exhaust-aspirated air cleaner, and has fire suppression equipment (such as a knapsack spray pump or water fire extinguisher).  

Other ‘hot’ farm work like welding, grinding, soldering, using an incinerator and even beekeeping duties that involve smoke or flames are also banned. 


A pile of sticks and vegetation being burnt off in a green field

Burning off is permissable (with a permit) in fire danger periods but prohibited during total fire bans. Photo: CFA.

On holidays 

Campfires, as well as fires lit for warmth or comfort are a big no-no during total fire bans.  

Commercially manufactured portable gas stoves used for cooking while camping are permissible, so long as they are located on stable ground, at least three metres away from flammable material, with a hose and ten litres of water nearby and adult supervision while lit. The stove must be completely extinguished upon leaving.  

Avoid driving off-road where possible. It is prohibited to drive on vegetation during total fire bans unless the car is fitted with a silencing device such as a muffler that removes all exhaust from the engine. Even if your car has such a device, it is advised you don’t drive on vegetation unless necessary due to the heightened fire risk. 

How to prepare your home for fire season 

Victorians who live near forest, bush, grassland, or the coast should prepare their homes and properties for the possibility of a bushfire each year.  

That means clearing excessive vegetation from around your home, emptying gutters, and keeping fuel sources (e.g. firewood) away from your home). Remember, you may need a permit from the CFA to burn off.  

Have a Bushfire Survival Plan ready to go and that everyone in your household knows what to do if it’s enacted. If you’re travelling through a bushfire prone area, be aware of current fire danger ratings and stay updated through the VicEmergency website or app, or by listening to ABC local radio. 


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Products issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.