Fire risk sparks lanterns ban call

Last updated 13:00 05/12/2013

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Waimea firefighters want Chinese lanterns banned because of their fire risk.

A remit from the Waimea Rural Fire Authority banning the lanterns has been put to national fire bodies. The paper lanterns float across the sky while their flames stay alight, then sink to the ground, with the potential to cause a fire.

The authority's principal rural fire officer, Ian Reade, said Chinese lanterns were technically an open air fire requiring a permit.

Their sale or use has been banned in numerous countries but they remained easy to buy in New Zealand, he said.

However, those who did use the lanterns here could buy themselves big trouble, he warned.

It was illegal to discard a burning or smouldering object under the Forest and Rural Fire Act and users whose lanterns caused fires were legally liable for suppression and damage costs, he said.

Users just had to look to the situation of a Glenhope couple who have been ordered by the High Court to pay $1.2 million in firefighting costs after a 2009 fire spread from log fire embers on their property, destroying a neighbouring forest and home, as an example of the potential costs, he said.

National Rural Fire officer Murray Dudfield said the National Rural Fire Authority supported the proposal, and the lanterns had caused fires in the past.

The Fire Service Commission would also support a ban but driving it through could be a long hard process, he said.

"Hopefully sanity will prevail and people will not use the lanterns in elevated fire danger periods."

Mr Reade said rural firefighters have already attended fires started by lanterns. "Imagine someone standing on the beach of Abel Tasman National Park in summer and letting one of those thing go."

The approaching summer fire season was looking similar to last year's extreme risk situation, he said.

Rural property owners in particular should start preparing by clearing a two-metre area of flammable fuels from around their homes, cleaning gutters, moving firewood away from their homes, pruning back bushes and shrubs from the ground, not barking gardens near the house and checking decks for areas where blown embers could gather.

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- The Nelson Mail

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