Large fire perilously close to properties

By Sandra Conchie

A Welcome Bay resident who lit a non-permitted fire on his property which quickly got out of control at the weekend could be prosecuted or have to pay the bill for putting the fire out.

"Lighting a fire without a permit is a criminal offence, and so is lighting a fire then leaving it unattended," said Barry Low, principal rural fire officer for the Bay of Plenty Moana Rural Fire Authority.

Mount Maunganui Fire Service station officer Roger Pickett said fire crews were alerted to the fire on the Kairua Rd property about 4.14pm on Saturday, after a 111 call from a neighbour.

By the time the fire crew arrived the vegetation fire - fuelled by the gusty wind - had spread and grown to 300-400sq/m in size.

The out-of -control fire which had "multiple ignition points" came close to nearby houses along the road frontage.

A neighbouring couple and their daughter, who did not wish to be named, said they saw the smoke and immediately had grave concerns about a male relative whose house was located near the fire.

"I couldn't believe someone would be lighting a fire on Saturday, as there was howling westerlies around that time. They should have known better. It was terribly windy and smoke was billowing towards my uncle's house and about half kilometre down the road," an eyewitness said.

Mr Pickett said that because of the size of the fire a Te Puke fire crew was also called to help with a water tanker and six fire fighters were involved in fighting the blaze for about an hour.

Dousing the fire required about 12,000 litres of water, he said.

Mr Pickett said the person responsible for the blaze lit the fire to burn off grass.

"Because the fire was on Maori land the man seemed to think he didn't needed a permit. That is not the case," he said.

Mr Low said it was too early to say whether the man would be prosecuted, but the possibility would be discussed with Tauranga City Council.

"Overall the fire risk in this district ranges from very high to extreme, so lighting any fires which may get away on people is not a very wise move," he said.

The maximum penalty for lighting a fire without a permit or leaving a fire unattended is six months' prison or a $2000 fine.

Mr Low said in this case the fire was "very large and extreme" and the outcome could have been far worse.

Fire permits were still being issued on a case-by-case basis but if the dry weather conditions continued a total fire ban might be considered this week.

Permits holders are being urged to take care and not to leave fires unattended, and farmers and orchardists are also being urged to take extra care when operating machinery - especially with several large highs expected to cross the country this week, he said.

Greerton Fire Brigade also put out a 10m-by-10m suspicious scrub fire just before 9pm on Saturday night.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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