Illegal camping fines took a surge last week when almost 50 visitors were caught out in Wooditjup National Park, adding to an already high-risk bushfire-prone season. Shire rangers issued 45 fines in one morning when a group of visitors were found in the national park, camping in their vehicles with no toilets or rubbish disposal facilities. The surge has forced Shire and emergency service workers to issue a warning to visitors to find appropriate accommodation sites or face the consequences. So far in the 2021-22 financial year Shire rangers have already issues more infringements and warnings for illegal campers than in the 2020-21 financial year. Between July 2021 and January 2022, rangers have issues 42 warnings and 187 infringements, compared with 35 warnings and 148 infringements in the entire 2020-21 financial year. Shire emergency services manager Adam Jasper said illegal camping created major concern for bushfires, especially during summer, putting both campers and the wider Margaret River region at risk. “We’ve recently had two major bushfire incidents in our Shire, with official campsites evacuated in the nick of time, and several people’s belongings burned to the ground,” he said. “Firefighters won’t know where you are if you’re free camping in the bush, and I’ve seen fires move so quickly they can create incredibly dangerous situations in a short period of time.“Our bushland is tinder-dry, with conditions as dry as we’d usually only expect at the end of summer, bush cooking on open stoves or lighting campfires in undesignated spots can unintendedly cause a bushfire.“This creates a very real risk to the surrounding community where people live and work.” More than 9000ha of bushland was burnt in December because of two out-of-control bushfires, both understood to be deliberately lit, while in the neighbouring City of Busselton shire Eagle Bay this week went up in flames from a third serious bushfire. Margaret River police have been working closely with Rangers and emergency services to support the efforts against illegal camping, attending the camps to ensure compliance and issue move on notices when needed. Senior Sergeant Simone Taplin said the issue was becoming a significant concern for police, adding more pressure to already busy emergency services during peak tourism and bushfire season. “It’s highly concerning for people camping in unauthorised locations if a bushfire occurs we don’t know to evacuate them and they become a risk to us and the community,” she said. “There’s also the COVID-19 aspect, we cannot track and trace people during community spread of the virus when they’re staying at illegal campgrounds and we can’t manage that spread. “Moving forward the plan is to have the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Shire rangers and WA Police on the same age by creation and communication group between the three of us so there’s a consistent approach and shared intelligence among the groups. “We have compassion and understanding in circumstances when people are down on their luck and unable to find accommodation but we can’t put the health and safety of the community at risk, if people are down on their luck speak to us and we can help rather than going out bush.” Shire ranger co-ordinator Narelle Graue said the high volume of illegal campers setting up in the bush with no resources was putting significant pressure on bushland areas. “The true cost of this type of camping is paid for by the environment and indirectly by residents whose rates go towards cleaning up the rubbish left behind, rehabilitating trampled bushland, and covering water bills from travellers relying on public showers and other facilities,” she said. “Our visitor numbers peak at this time of year, with little accommodation or campsites available last-minute.“Travellers intending to live out of their vehicles need to have made arrangements at official campsites or on private properties before arriving.” Currently Shire of Augusta-Margaret River Rangers, Parks and Wildlife Rangers, and the police are working closely to deal with the increase in illegal camping, which carries a $100 fine.