Farmers' president critical of fire ban

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012

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A fired-up Southland Federated Farmers president claims fire restrictions that span for about 10 days during the holiday period are illegal and exist only so fire authority staff can go on holiday.

The Southern Rural Fire Authority will stop issuing fire permits from December 23 to January 3, which means burning that usually requires a permit is restricted.

Southland Federated Farmers president Russell MacPherson said the fire ban was illegal and was implemented only so fire authority staff could go on holiday.

It was disappointing for farmers who needed to burn foliage and other materials, he said.

"Just because the towns shut down doesn't mean the farms do. We don't just drop the tools and go on holiday," he said.

Lots of people can be careful and responsible when burning but the authority's mindset is that every fire gets out of control, Mr MacPherson said.

"It's not on - I think it's not playing the game. It's not dry, is it? They're not playing by the letter of the law," he said.

Southern Rural Fire Authority deputy principal rural fire officer Elton Smith said "it was not quite correct" to say that fire restrictions existed so authority staff could take a holiday.

"It's not the fire authority staff that are going on holiday; it's volunteers and the like.

"Our volunteers deserve a bit of a break," he said.

There were between 300 and 400 firefighters across the Southern Rural Fire District, of which a significant portion were volunteers, and this number dropped to about half over the break, he said.

There were only three fulltime staff who covered 12.5 per cent of New Zealand and "none of us are going on holiday".

The ban was about reducing the likelihood of fires and providing and maintaining service levels to the public, Mr Smith said.

Smaller fires such as cooking fires, hangi and hedge trimmings, as well as bonfires and fireworks at community events were still permitted during the break, Mr Smith said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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