Couch 'tradition' flares up

21:46, Feb 20 2013

The University of Otago students' orientation week tradition of setting couches on fire flared up again last night with Dunedin fire crews called to at least eight couch fires.

A fire communications spokesman said there had been between eight and 10 callouts between 10pm and 6am in Dunedin's popular student flatting area.

There were several couch fires in Castle and Hyde streets that required the fire service to attend, he said.

Despite being a popular tradition, it was a frustrating time for the fire department, the spokesman said. It taxed the department's financial resource but more critically it kept fire crews busy when they could be needed at more serious incidents.

Senior Sergeant Phil McDouall, of Dunedin, said orientation week was the busiest time of year for Dunedin police.

Extra police officers were on duty during the nights of orientation week and while there was still a significant number of couch fires, there were not as many as previous decades, he said.

The practice of couch fires put lives at risk and took police officers away from other jobs, he said,.
''There are better ways to use police resources but I don't think we will ever be able to stop couch fires completely. It's been going on for decades.''

No students had been arrested that he knew of, Mr McDouall said, but the flats with couch fires would be paid a visit by campus police and offenders could be referred to the proctor's office.

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