'Irresponsibility' keeps firemen busy

19:08, Nov 28 2012
Fire at Papatotara
OUT OF CONTROL: A fire rages at Papatotara, near Tuatapere.

The Southern Rural Fire Authority has criticised people it says are being irresponsible when lighting fires.

It has also announced it will bring in a restricted fire season, starting on Saturday, because of dry, windy weather.

Principal rural fire officer Mike Grant said although the majority of people were responsible in how they used fire, there was a minority who were not.

There was "no excuse" for people to light fires with windy conditions about the Southland coastline - with gusts up to 70kmh on Tuesday - in the past few days.

The winds had quickly dried out vegetation despite some rain having fallen.

"Fire is a useful tool but comes with responsibility - people need to understand the risks and responsibilities in order to use fire wisely. Bottom line is, if you light a fire, you are responsible for it," Mr Grant said.

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The authority has been kept busy since the fire in the Awarua Wetlands - it had been called to nine vegetation fires in just seven days.

The wildfire, which burned for four days, took five ground crews and three helicopters to bring under control after it burned through almost 500 hectares of internationally recognised wetlands.

Authority community and education co-ordinator Sally Chesterfield said although the fires had not damaged property, some could have turned nasty.

"Some have had the potential to become really serious fires and others are where fires have just become out of control . . . we're lucky, at this stage they've caused no significant damage but they're . . . highly preventable."

The fires had started in a variety of ways, including burnoffs carried out despite the windy, dry conditions.

One old burnoff had reignited after embers were tossed up by the wind.

The Southland Times