Smoke puffing out of the most unlikely places has drawn curious stares and even emptied buildings in Tauranga's downtown area.
The mundane task of making sure there were no cross-overs between the city's sewer and stormwater pipes has sparked some interesting diversions for adults and children alike.
Council drainage services manager Graeme Dohnt said smoke testing the sewers had even led to the evacuation of the Westpac Building after it triggered smoke alarms. "Something was broken inside that should not have been."
It was the highest profile incident in what had otherwise been a fairly routine procedure - occasionally arousing public bewilderment at the sight of smoke wafting out of street stormwater grates, more reminiscent of Rotorua than Tauranga.
Mr Dohnt said staff knew they had a problem when smoke emerged out of the earth along Selwyn St behind the fire station. Smoke testing revealed that an earlier pipe thrusting operation had broken a line of connections between houses and the sewer main. Even the the Tauranga Art Gallery had problems when smoke started coming out of a sprinkler box.
And despite potential for false alarms, the Fire Service reported it was not dispatched by people unaware that smoke testing was taking place. Senior Station Office Len Sabin said although firefighters knew the tests were happening, they had to react to any report of a fire as if it was real. This is the last week of testing in the downtown area. It is part of an exercise to find improper connections between the sewerage and stormwater systems.