Child burned by beach fire

By Mike Barrington

Watch out for Barbara Turner if you enjoyed a bonfire on Ruakaka Beach on Saturday night and left without fully extinguishing the embers.

By the time Barbara and her husband Colin left their Ruakaka home to take their 5-year-old grandson Oliver to the beach on Sunday morning, wind had flattened the ashes and the bonfire site was indistinguishable from the sand around it.

The beach was filling up fast with families and little Nippers from the Ruakaka Surf Lifesaving Club were scampering around. But about 11am, it was Oliver who found the hot spot close to the dunes to the left of the steps by the surf club.

His cries of agony when both his feet were burned as he chased a ball across the hidden hazard hit Barbara in the heart.

First, there was the drama of getting medical treatment for the burns, which included an egg-shaped blister in the arch of one foot. Then Barbara had to telephone her son and daughter-in-law at Whangaparaoa.

She explained that Oliver could not return home as planned after the weekend because his burns needed ongoing treatment.

"This sort of thing is not supposed to happen on granny's watch," she said sadly.

On Sunday, Barbara had been angry with the "thoughtless" people who left the fire hazard. By yesterday she had calmed down and was anxious to see it didn't happen again.

In a message to the Advocate, she and Colin told the fire-lighters:

"We are not against you having fun and even having a bonfire on the beach, but please, please be responsible for your actions and make sure it is 'dead and buried' before you leave."

Colin, who is a station officer with the Ruakaka Volunteer Fire Brigade, heaped sand on the bonfire site on Sunday but found it still hot yesterday morning, when he made sure it was thoroughly extinguished.

Fire service specialist fire investigator Craig Bain of Whangarei said yesterday sand alone was inadequate and he advised people to bucket up seawater to make sure beach bonfires were put out.

As the Whangarei District Council has not yet imposed its usual summer fire ban, it was not illegal to light beach bonfires, but Mr Bain urged common sense.

"These fires need to be within the tidal zone, so the incoming tide puts them out. If they are above high water and not extinguished with water the wind could revive them and start dune grasses burning," he warned.

Meanwhile, young Oliver was still not able to hobble about on his healing feet yesterday and is missing out on his final week of school for the year.

- Northern Advocate

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