Restrictions aimed at stamping out fires

Last updated 16:06 11/12/2013

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Permits will be needed from tomorrow to light fires in the open.

Principal rural fire officer for the Marlborough Kaikoura Rural Fire District Richard McNamara said restrictions would apply to most areas.

Fires will not be permitted south of the Wairau River, including the area north of the Clarence River up to the Marlborough district boundary, and north of the Wairau River, including the Marlborough Sounds.

The only exception will be in the Kaikoura area, between the Kowhai and Hapuku rivers, bounding the Kaikoura flats.

The restricted fire season means a permit is required to light a fire in the open.

The only exemptions are for gas-fired barbecues, approved incinerators incorporating a chimney and spark arrestor, pizza ovens or any unit that has a fully enclosed firebox and braziers, or barbecues with a tray to catch falling embers.

Mr McNamara said that even though such fires did not require a permit, the person lighting the fire was still responsible for its control and must ensure it did not spread.

"No outside fire should be lit or remain alight in high or gusty winds or when these winds are forecast, such as brewing west-northwest conditions."

A permit was not a legal defence against claims for damages caused by a fire and the costs involved with a callout would be billed to the person lighting the fire, he said.

These costs could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and, if damages were also brought against the person responsible for the fire, costs could grow exponentially.

"A recent case in the Nelson area saw a couple charged with over $1 million of damages and firefighting costs for a fire they had caused."

Mr McNamara also warned that if this summer brought long dry stretches, a total fire ban could be imposed where all existing permits would be withdrawn.

NIWA's latest three-monthly forecast was predicting a similar season to last year with average to above average temperatures and average rainfall for the district.

"As it dries out and gets hotter with the onset of summer, people need to think very carefully about what might spark a fire; the risks of mowing dry grass in the heat of the day, using metal grinders outside and using gear and equipment that has not been recently checked and serviced."

Mr McNamara said that when fires got out of control it was not only likely to be a financial cost for the person responsible, but was also a cost of valuable volunteer time.

"We don't want to burn up this valuable resource when we may need our volunteers at their best when the hot summer months really hit."

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He also asked the public to appreciate the difference between an uncontrolled fire and a "smoke nuisance" fire.

To apply for a fire permit, people can apply online at mkrfa.com or contact the Marlborough District Council.

- The Marlborough Express

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