Debate over proposed fire bylaw

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2014

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A debate over whether Hamilton should adopt a fire bylaw has left city leaders divided, with one councillor saying his colleagues were being influenced by emotion not evidence.

In a 10-2 vote, city councillors accepted a staff recommendation this week to create a bylaw to regulate open-air burning in the city.

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

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

Council staff will report back to the council's strategy and policy committee meeting next month with a statement of proposal on the bylaw to go out for public consultation.

City councillor Ewan Wilson said a fire bylaw would allow the Fire Service to prioritise their job.

Wilson said it was a "no-brainer" to give firefighters the power to put out nuisance fires, and he did not believe they were motivated by a desire to take away residents' property rights.

"I have been astonished at some of the concerns my elected colleagues have raised and I hope they reflect and look at this and why they [Fire Service] are asking for assistance, and realise it's simply a desire to ensure good public safety," he said.

The Fire Service responds to about 140 calls a year relating to nuisance fires in Hamilton, at a cost of almost $48,000 a year.

Although most residents were happy to extinguish nuisance fires when asked, a small number challenged the service's authority.

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

Councillor Andrew King, who voted against the staff recommendation, said Hamilton had recently had two of the driest summers on record. Yet there had been no educational material from the city council or Fire Service suggesting residents should not light outdoor fires.

King said arguments in favour of a fire bylaw were based on fear not evidence.

"I don't think this [bylaw] is about summer fires at all. I think this is about nuisance fires, which is mums and dads burning rubbish in their incinerators at the back of their houses."

Councillor Angela O'Leary said nobody would be harmed by a fire bylaw but lives could be saved.

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- Waikato Times

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