Fire volunteers threatened

By Peter de Graaf

Volunteer firefighters dousing illegal fires have been threatened by people defying the Northland-wide fire ban.

Some property owners have not been happy to see fire crews arrive to put out their backyard rubbish fires - despite the drought, extreme fire risk and total fire ban - and have been taking it out on the volunteers.

One such incident occurred at Waihou Valley last Sunday when the Okaihau Fire Brigade was called out to extinguish a rubbish fire. The property owner, who knew about the ban, became aggressive and threatened to set his dogs on the volunteers.

Deputy fire chief Jack Winwood said it was a "fairly typical" response at this time of year and he didn't want to make a big deal of it. Firefighters often had to explain that the total fire ban applied to everyone and to all outdoor fires, however big or small.

Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor, however, said such behaviour would not be tolerated. "These firefighters are serving their community as volunteers. We're not going to tolerate any kind of threat or aggression, and we won't hesitate to involve the police."

The Waihou Valley fire-starter would be invoiced for the callout cost.

The Rural Fire Authority was considering whether further action would be taken.

Fire Service volunteer support officer Colin Kitchen said aggression towards firefighters was an ongoing issue.

"People say they're going to burn their rubbish anyhow. They claim they can't afford to take it to the dump, but it's a lot cheaper than a $2000 fine."

Mr Kitchen said frequent callouts were already putting a strain on the volunteers, their families and employers, so they didn't need threats as well.

"They do it without pay to make Northland a safer place, so it's a bit disappointing when they get abused."

Fire restrictions have in place in the Far North since early December, now upgraded to a total fire ban.


- Northern Advocate

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