Bills for blazes on way to culprits

By Peter de Graaf

Some Northlanders are due for nasty surprises in the mail as the first bills for illegal and out-of-control fires start arriving.

The Northern Rural Fire Authority is taking a hard line against fire starters after blazes last summer claimed two lives and cost $2million to put out.

A restricted fire season came into force at noon on Monday across the Far North, requiring a permit for all outdoor fires except barbecues, braziers and hangi fires. In the most fire-prone areas, such as the Karikari and Aupouri Peninsulas, restrictions are in force all year round.

Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said the first invoice had been sent to a Whirinaki resident whose fire two weeks ago, before restrictions came in, got out of control. Firefighters had to douse the flames.

Next in line for an unpleasant surprise would be an orchardist whose waste fires sparked a Kerikeri Fire Brigade callout on Monday night, nine hours into the restricted fire season. He did not have a permit.

Mr Taylor said he was allowing a little leeway in the first few days of the restrictions, but his leniency was evaporating as quickly as the fire danger was rising. Fire starters who claimed ignorance of the rules had their heads "pretty deep in the sand", he said.

Anyone who blatantly disregarded the rules would be invoiced for the cost of putting out the fire. Sending a fire truck cost about $500 but the expense escalated rapidly, especially if helicopters had to be called in. Large fires could cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out.

Mr Taylor said people might be surprised by the powers offered by the Forest and Rural Fires Act, and by how aggressively the rural fire authority would pursue people ignoring the rules.

Arsonists are also in the authority's sights after the Okaihau brigade was called to a deliberately lit scrub fire in Lake Rd at 1pm on Tuesday. Signs went up in the area yesterday urging people to be vigilant and pass on any information about the arsonist.

Signs also went up at Waima, South Hokianga, where Rawene firefighters had to put out a grass fire beside State Highway 12 on Monday night, one of many over the past month. "We've been getting a few grass fires out there. We're asking people to keep a very focused look on who might be doing it. Depending on the conditions this could be a very dangerous situation."

- Northern Advocate

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