Fire safety for beekeepers

smoker

Smoke causes bees to stop guarding the entrance to the colony, move inside and gorge on honey. Just like humans, bees are easier to deal with when they have full bellies. The smoke also masks the smell of alarm pheromone. The use of a smoker is necessary to work responsibly with bees. Contrary to what the public learned in Bee Movie it does not cause bees to fall asleep (among many travesties in that movie)!

Beekeepers should be aware that some electric bee smokers have been recalled due to the use of asbestos in the insulating board. If you still have one of these smokers you should wrap it in sturdy plastic and contact your local council for the closest hazardous waste disposal facility. You can contact the place-of-sale for a refund.

Some tips for fire safety

  • Ensure your smoker is in good condition and that fire or hot cinders cannot escape through the base air inlet
  • Light the smoker in a fireproof container. The container will contain any burning fuel that falls out of the smoker
  • Light the smoker in an area without flammable vegetation
  • Use ‘cool’ smoke – hot smoke is accompanied by sparks and flames and is a fire risk, add more fuel
  • Get a permit to use smokers on Total Fire Ban days (in states where this is legal), or where one is required for general use 
  • Even with a permit the smoker should not be used on Total Fire Ban days unless in an emergency
  • Ensure you have water available 
  • Extinguish the smoker with one of the following methods 
    • Fill the smoker with water before emptying it, ensuring that it is completely out
    • Block the nozzle and place the smoker into an airtight fireproof container
  • Emptying the smoker into water or a hole risks embers escaping and is not recommended
  • Follow regulations controlling the use of smokers in your state or territory
  • Ensure you have a phone, or other means, for contacting emergency services
  • Carry firefighting gear when conditions are dry

State regulations during total fire bans

The following table links to permit applications and advice on whether bee smokers can be used in emergencies during total fire bans in your state.

State Regulations/Permits Total fire ban days (in emergency only)
QLD Yes
NSW Yes 
ACT
VIC Yes with permit
TAS No
SA Must be lit in car or building
WA No
NT No

Video

How does a smoker actually calm bees, AgriFutures Australia


Additional resources

  • Back from the ashes – Skynews: An overview of the varied ways that fire affects our communities, including Lindsay Bourke discussing the effect of bushfires on Tasmanian beekeepers. 

Acknowledgements

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