Humour targets costly fires

By By Peter de Graaf


A series of cheeky billboards are going up around the Far North in the hope of preventing last year's devastating wildfires.

While the billboards make use of slightly risque humour, the Northern Rural Fire Authority hopes they will get across a deadly serious message.

Fighting scrub and forest fires in Northland last summer cost $2 million and the lives of two Far North men, who died in a helicopter crash while surveying a suspicious fire on the Karikari Peninsula.

One fire alone, in Whitecliffs forest at Horeke, covered 350 hectares and cost $650,000 to put out.

The $2 million bill - which will ultimately be paid by ratepayers, taxpayers and anyone with fire insurance - does not include the losses suffered by forest owners or the economic impact of taking hundreds of firefighters away from their jobs for weeks on end.

The blaze at Horeke was caused by an ill-considered burn-off, but many of the others - including a series of fires at Karikari - were deliberately lit.

In the hope of preventing a repeat of 2011, the Northern Rural Fire Authority is rolling out an arson reduction strategy and a fire safety campaign before summer arrives.

Principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said the authority was partnering with Crimestoppers to make it easier for people to pass on information about arsonists.

Crimestoppers guaranteed not to ask for informants' names or record phone calls. People could also provide information online by going to www.crimestoppersnz.org and filling in an encrypted message form.

The authority would also put up signs after suspicious fires asking people with information to call the Crimestoppers hotline.

"We plan to investigate all fires this summer and hold those responsible to account."

Mr Taylor asked people in fire-prone areas to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

"There is a code of silence around criminal activities in some communities which is misplaced and cannot continue."

From December a new website, www.havingafire.org.nz, would offer fire safety tips and information about fire restrictions, as well as a fire permit register which firefighters could access from a mobile phone.

That would make it quicker and easier to identify non-permitted fires so they could be extinguished and the fire-lighters dealt with.

Billboards around the district would urge people to take simple safety precautions before lighting fires outdoors.

"We're taking a bit of a risk with the humour, but we need to focus attention on the ads and the messages in them so hopefully they will become a talking point."

The Crimestoppers number is 0800 555 111.

- Northern Advocate

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