Hamilton unable to declare a fire ban

22:07, Jul 17 2014

The time-honoured tradition of festive bonfires during summer could be doused if Hamilton adopts a fire bylaw, a councillor has warned.

The city revoked its fire prevention bylaw in 2007, and city councillors this week debated whether to regulate open-air burning.

Without a bylaw the council and the Fire Service cannot declare a fire ban in the city during extended dry periods or require nuisance fires to be put out.

Last year the Fire Service formally asked the council to adopt a bylaw to enable it to better manage open-air burning in the city.

Speaking at the council's strategy and policy committee meeting this week, Fire Service fire risk management officer Peter Hallett said a fire ban would not have to prohibit activities such as barbecues and hangi.

Hamilton was the only city in New Zealand unable to declare a fire ban.


Hallett said Hamilton firefighters responded to about 140 calls a year relating to nuisance fires, at a cost of almost $48,000 a year.

He said most residents were happy to extinguish nuisance fires when asked but there was a small group who challenged the Fire Service's authority.

It can extinguish fires only when they pose a risk to people or property.

Councillor Andrew King said there was no need for a fire bylaw, and questioned why the Fire Service didn't communicate its concerns during the past two dry summers.

"Why didn't the Fire Service's comms kick in then and tell people of Hamilton ‘don't light open fires and use common sense'."

King said the bylaw would not just apply to nuisance fires in summer but all year round.

"This is about having a bonfire with your kids for their 21st birthday in the peak of our summer in a suburban area. This isn't Waipa or Waikato where we have underground peat fires or where we have radiata forests which are very combustible or hay paddocks. This is a suburban area."

In reply, councillor Garry Mallett said he was confident the Fire Service would be able to determine what was a nuisance fire and what wasn't "and what is reasonable to put up with for one night versus day after day after day".

Councillor Martin Gallagher was "amazed" some residents would object to a Fire Service request to put out a fire.

Councillor Dave Macpherson said he was "fairly convinced" of the need for the city to be able to declare a fire ban but wanted to first see the wording of the bylaw.

The content of the draft bylaw will be presented at a council briefing session next month.