Firewood collectors across Gippsland are being urged to start planning their firewood needs as part of the opening of the autumn collection season.
From March 1 designated firewood collection areas will open across Victoria, allowing communities to gather wood for personal use.
Forest Fire Management Victoria Gippsland's Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Geoff Conway said: "We are anticipating an increased demand for firewood this autumn due to a range of impacts, including the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the 2019/20 bushfires.
"We are urging people who rely on firewood for heating and cooking to consider all energy options, including purchasing firewood from local merchants selling legally obtained wood. Financial assistance is also available for people on low incomes who purchase firewood or wish to transition to other energy sources," Mr Conway said.
"For more information please visit: https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/firewood/energy-concession-and-support
"Where firewood supply is scarce, priority access can be given to particular sections of the community such as local residents, Traditional Owners and those who depend on firewood for heating. This is managed at a regional level, so local factors can be accounted for.
"In Gippsland, firewood collection areas are being more realistically mapped for the benefit of communities toreflect where firewood can be practically and legally collected.
"Many firewood collection areas have changed from block areas to linear roadside areas where firewood can be collected within 50 metres of a road.
"There will be firewood available in some districts in VicForests coupes and along fuel breaks and planned burn boundaries for a short time before the planned burning program starts in those areas.
"Please note that there are no domestic firewood collection areas available south of the Princes Highway in Latrobe District in autumn 2021.
"We want to remind the community that firewood can only be taken from designated collection areas in State forests or parks during approved collection seasons and is for personal use only and cannot be sold," Mr Conway said.
"Designated collection areas are selected for a range of reasons including the availability of firewood, community safety, and to protect sites of cultural and environmental significance.
"It's important to stay within collection limits, which are in place to prevent households stockpiling large volumes of firewood from public land and denying others a supply.
"Collection limits include taking a maximum of two cubic metres per person per day and a maximum of 16 cubic metres per household per financial year.
"The felling of trees and cutting of hollow logs for firewood is also prohibited. Hollow logs and dead trees provide critical habitat for a wide variety of native species."
In addition to collecting firewood safely, remember to be COVIDSafe. - wear a fitted face mask, follow physical distancing directions, use hand sanitiser and observe group size limits.
Firewood collection from roadsides is managed by local government agencies and usually requires a permit. Residents are encouraged to contact their local councils directly for further details.
Under the Forest Act 1958, people who collect firewood outside designated collection areas or season or take more than the maximum allowable amounts can face fines of up to $8,261, or a maximum penalty of one-year imprisonment or both, if the matter goes to court.
The autumn season closes on June 30. Further information, including interactive online maps, will be available once the season opens at www.ffm.vic.gov.au/firewood