Dad’s bonfires ‘stupid’

PART-TIME beef farmer Ricky Montgomery lit three bonfires on his Mitta property to entertain his children on a hot summer night.

The potential for disaster was made clear when storms bringing extreme winds swept through the area just three hours after firefighters doused the flames.

Montgomery’s actions a few days before last Christmas shocked magistrate John Murphy, who described what he did as “stupidity”.

“It beggars belief, doesn’t it?” he said in Wodonga Court yesterday.

“You’ve just got to look at the country where it was.”

Montgomery has since been accepted as a member of the Mitta brigade.

Montgomery, 37, was fined $1500 — to be shared among three brigades in the area, including Mitta — and placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond, but escaped conviction.

He pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of lighting a fire during a fire danger period.

“Mr Montgomery has learnt a lot from this,” his solicitor, Greg Duncan, said.

“He’s not an arrogant man.”

On December 10 the CFA declared the start to Towong Shire’s fire danger period.

Ten days later it issued a briefing to emergency services about severe hot weather predicted for December 21 to 24.

It expected this would culminate in an especially high fire risk on Sunday, December 23, for which a total fire ban for the state but excluding the North East was later declared.

Two days earlier, Montgomery had taken three of his four children to his 285-hectare Mitta Valley farm to stay for a few days.

The next day they went to the Mitta hotel for dinner, then returned to the farm, when, police said, Montgomery decided lighting a couple of bonfires using some old, large felled trees “would be a good activity” for the children.

Montgomery, an information technology worker, used petrol and matches to light the two piles, which had open grassland on one side and bush on the other.

He and the children then went to another paddock, off Bullhead Lane, and lit a smaller bonfire.

A neighbour saw the twin bonfires and told him how Towong was in a fire danger period.

Meanwhile, another farmer saw the smoke from the Bullhead Lane blaze and called the CFA.

Three CFA tankers, helped by a Department of Sustainability and Environment bulldozer, put out the fire, which was expected to burn for days without their intervention.