Burnoff halt angers

An Invercargill man says he will be forced to pay for firefighters to douse a controlled burnoff on his property because an Environment Southland staffer could not be bothered working on a Saturday.

Chris Barlow said yesterday he was upset with the regional council after it asked the fire service to put out his burnoff on Saturday.

However, Environment Southland's compliance manager said it had to act if a burnoff became a problem for others.

Mr Barlow said he was visited twice by a male compliance officer after complaints about a burnoff on his property which he lit on Thursday. The officer had no issues with it continuing as long as it remained supervised, he said.

The fire continued to burn on Friday with no problems but, on Saturday, after another complaint, the property was again visited by Environment Southland, this time by a female compliance officer who said the fire had to be put out, Mr Barlow said.

He said the woman indicated she didn't want to be there.

"She said 'if there's any other callouts I don't want to have to come back on a Saturday'," Mr Barlow said.

She rang the fire brigade and told them to extinguish the fire, Mr Barlow said.

The fire crew arrived and told him they did not believe the burnoff was a nuisance at that time but, because they had been told by Environment Southland to extinguish it, they had to, Mr Barlow said.

He had not had any complaints about the burnoff from his neighbours and Environment Southland had made him feel like a criminal, he said.

However, Environment Southland compliance manager Mark Hunter said the regional council had the authority to take action if it deemed a burnoff was having a negative impact on other people.

When the regional council received calls from people whom it was affecting, its staff had to take action to deal with that, Mr Hunter said.

The council could pass the costs of responding to a burnout, including staff time and the bill from the fire service, on to the occupants of a property, he said.

He did not know what the cost of Saturday's response would be.

When asked to respond to Mr Barlow's claim the female compliance officer said she did not want to be called back to the property on a Saturday, Mr Hunter said the staff member had acted reasonably after finding smoke from the fire was a nuisance to others, including the complainant, who had put up with it for two days.

"They'd had enough and they didn't want to put up with it any further," he said.

"At the end of the day, there's one really important point - it is that he's not the victim, the people he was affecting were the victims in this thing . . . [it is] disappointing that he can't understand that."

He reminded people to consider their neighbours when starting burnoffs.

New Zealand Fire Service area manager Southland Bruce Stubbs said that, once smoke from a burnoff became an issue for others, it was outside fire-permit conditions. alana.dixon@stl.co.nz

The Southland Times