Big bills for 'escaped' fires

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 12:26 10/12/2012
Helicopter fights fire
Emma Allen
Owner will pay: It took two helicopters and five fire engines to extinguish a burn-off that got out of control in the Waihopai Valley.

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Fires that begin as controlled burns and get out of control can cost those who start them tens of thousands of dollars.

Marlborough chief rural fire officer Richard McNamara said on Friday that while people might not be fined, they did have to pay the cost of putting out the fire.

The cost of a fire in the Waihopai Valley near Blenheim last month has not yet been calculated, but Mr McNamara predicted the property owner would have to pay up to $30,000.

Two helicopters and five fire engines battled the blaze that started off as a controlled burn and spread to about 35 hectares.

On the same day, a fire in Redwood Pass Rd spread to 2ha after a spark from a passing train ignited some dry grass. Kiwirail was to foot the bill, which should be less than $5000, Mr McNamara said.

A fire in the Wither Hills on November 29 would also cost the person who started it up to $5000 after it spread to 2ha.

The fire was a small rubbish fire that had been left unattended.

"People have to take responsibility for themselves, particularly how you manage fires," he said.

"Don't light a fire you can't control.

"An escaped burn is costly and it doesn't take much to get it going."

Restricted fire season under way

Marlborough and Kaikoura are now in a restricted fire season. This means that a fire permit is required at all times before lighting a fire in the open, excluding Blenheim urban areas.

Blenheim chief fire officer Rob Dalton said fires in urban areas must be contained in a drum, with gauze over the top to stop sparks getting out.

They must also be more than 3 metres away from the property boundary, monitored at all times, with a hose kept handy, Mr Dalton said.

"You're not allowed to smoke the neighbours out," he said. "People should be a lot more considerate."

Marlborough chief rural fire officer Richard McNamara said the hot, dry weather in Marlborough for the past month has meant an increase in fire call-outs compared with recent years.

Grass might look green on top but it could be dead or dry at the base.

"That means fires are running hotter and faster than people would predict."

Simple things such as clearing space around the house, cleaning gutters out and not storing firewood under a wooden deck could help prevent fires spreading, Mr McNamara said.

People who lived in rural areas should consider in-home sprinkler systems as a fire could engulf a house in less than five minutes.

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Although it was not critical just yet, things were definitely drying out, Mr McNamara said. "A bit of rain between now and Christmas would calm things down a bit."

- The Marlborough Express

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