Burning garden rubbish can be a good way to get rid of waste, but you need to follow the rules.
I'm always shocked and amazed when I hear about someone's house burning down. Shocked for the obvious reason that losing everything, including sometimes a life, in a fire is horrifying. But a tiny part of me is always amazed that things you want to keep will burn so easily, when I can't even get the fire in the living room started. A couple of cartons of kindling, a kilo of fire starters and wood that's been drying under cover for at least a decade usually fail to ignite my recalcitrant log burner, and I sulkily resort to the wall heater, whose indiscriminate consumption of electricity completely overcomes any pleasure I may take in having warm feet.
The same applies to outdoor fires.
Here in the country, I think we're still allowed to burn garden rubbish outside, provided we adhere to rules set down by the district council, the regional council, the neighbours, our eco-soldier mates and anyone else who spots the smoke from a distance of less than 100km.
I'm cautious, though, having once set alight the empty section next door by throwing a cardboard box full of particularly depressing bank statements, followed by a match, into the incinerator.
Never expecting it to catch (it never did before, or since) I returned to my computer and worked quietly on a story until my offsider looked out the window, took Christ's name loudly in vain and called the fire brigade.
Here in the country we have a volunteer fire brigade and they're all rather dishy, so despite the fact that I inadvertently destroyed half a shelter belt and felt completely idiotic, it did brighten up a rather dismal autumn afternoon.
I was reminded of this event recently when, having murdered a row of very unpleasant bottlebrushes, we set fire to our garden rubbish pile. Well, actually, we didn't set fire to it, since a three-week pile of New Zealand Heralds and a zillion litres of diesel failed to raise more than a very temporary flame.
After supervising a plume of apathetic smoke for a couple of hours, we deserted the non-fire and went to the garden centre. In a way I was secretly relieved, having complained noisily about the smoke from a series of garden fires down the road from our place a couple of weeks ago. A company had bought a five-acre block, cleared it, and lit about five separate fires, which burned for days. We coughed and spluttered, while the local supermarket spent a week worrying its alarms would be activated and all its customers evacuated. (Note: about 300 complaints about open fires are fielded by councils in the Auckland region every year.)
So - if you're smart and lucky enough to actually get a garden fire going, here are the rules.
Burning rubbish and garden waste is not allowed in urban areas.
You can burn untreated wood for cooking (umu, hangi or barbecue) and you can use braziers for heating, but only if it doesn't cause a problem for your neighbours.
In rural areas, call your local council first to check on fire bans, and whether or not you need a fire permit.
Don't burn plastics, rubber, paint, poisons, painted wood, treated timber, dust, food scraps, wet material, fabrics, green grass, foliage, tins, or glass.
These materials may produce large quantities of toxic smoke. Don't burn between sunset and sunrise unless you want to stay up all night supervising your fire - or non-fire, as the case may be.
If you're burning in an incinerator, these are the rules:
* Your incinerator must be 3m from your boundary and 12m from any building.
* You must ensure that air is circulating through the fire.
* Your incinerator must not be close to anything that may catch fire (like the neighbour's section and/or shelter belt.)
* There should be adequate water supplies available to put out the fire.
* The incinerator should not be left unsupervised while in use.
* You should ensure the wind isn't blowing towards your neighbours' washing or through their windows.
* And bear in mind that, despite all the precautions under the sun, other people's fires are a bloody nuisance.