Students could get furniture fires bill

LUCY TOWNEND AND KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 10:50 01/03/2014

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Students could be stung with a bill if they continue to set furniture on fire, with emergency services warning that costs may be recovered from unruly behaviour.

Palmerston North's student association is hopeful it can deter students from setting fires, but students hosting parties are unsure.

Police were called to a student party on Thursday where a 19-year-old man was arrested for allegedly setting fire to property.

Firefighters were called to a College St house, between Ranfurly and Ada streets, to put out a couch fire started by students in the midst of back-to-university celebrations.

Palmerston North station officer Chris Faithful said a couch was dragged into the middle of the street and set alight soon after 11.45pm, burning a hole in the road.

"It's another bad example of new Palmerston North residents' behaviour," he said. "That's another scar in the road to add to the 50 other scars in the road from that type of action."

Firefighters have reported several parties running in the neighbourhood this week, often resulting in large numbers of people on the streets intoxicated, breaking glass bottles and blocking traffic.

Police were called to the College St house several times on Thursday night and early Friday morning after reports of yelling.

Inspector Brett Calkin said about 60 young people were at the party, but the 19-year-old was the only person arrested at the address.

There were four other arrests for people breaking the liquor ban in the city centre that night, with predominantly young people being caught and issued $250 on-the-spot fines, Mr Calkin said.

There had been one or two situations from student celebrations during the week which warranted police attention.

"This time of year you never know what's going to happen, but we've got enough resources working to deal with it," he said.

"In general, the behaviour of students in Palmerston North has been good. There were a number of parties attended by large numbers of students, most of whom were really well behaved."

Firefighters are at the end of their tether with students lighting furniture fires and are considering stronger actions to deal with it.

Police making arrests meant there was the ability to find the fire starters and hold them accountable by seeking cost recovery, which could reach more than $1000, Mr Faithful said.

"We've done all the nice things to help students with various initiatives . . . but it is arson and it is illegal."

Massey University Students' Association president Linsey Higgins said it was becoming a rite of passage for some students, but if bad behaviour was highlighted it may stop. "Students don't realise the cost of damages caused by fire and if there was a monetary amount attached to their actions it may deter them."

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Liam Butler, from the flat involved in the College St party, said he wasn't aware anyone had been charged, but said it had been one of his flat's couches that was burnt.

"Obviously we know what happened with the couch fire but we don't know who did it or why," he said. "We will probably keep doing it but it depends on how strict the police get, it's part of uni culture."

Mr Butler said couch burning was for O Week or special events rather than every weekend.

The 19-year-old man will appear in Palmerston North District Court next week on a charge of wilful damage.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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