The Northern Rural Fire Authority has responded to continuing dry weather and a rising fire risk by imposing a total ban on outdoor fires throughout the Far North, effective from midday yesterday.
No open air fires will be permitted until further notice, although the authority would consider granting special permits for hangi fires. The only other exceptions are gas barbecues.
Principal fire officer Myles Taylor said that with no significant rain for weeks, the authority had no choice but to ban outdoor fires.
"Out of control fires cost the authority over $2.1 million last year, and we are trying to prevent costs escalating again this year," he said.
"We have been lucky so far, and have been able to contain most fires before they have escalated into major events. The big fire at Poutu shows how quickly small fires can spread and the damage that can be caused before control is established."
It was disappointing the authority had had to invoice 10 property owners firefighting costs.
"We would rather they had simply held off for a few months, or at the least made sure they had a fire permit," he said.
"Apart from being a very costly exercise for those responsible, frankly it is madness to be attempting to burn-off at this time of year."
The National Rural Fire Authority was committed to recovering costs from fire-lighters and was pursuing several people through the legal system for fires more than two years ago. Mr Taylor also urged parents to warn their children about the dangers of playing with matches or lighters in bush or scrub, potentially putting their lives and those of others at risk.
* * *The person who lit a rubbish fire at Herekino on Tuesday afternoon might be the next to receive a bill. Fire crews from Kaitaia and Ahipara extinguished the blaze just before it reached a large area of gorse and scrub.
"We had it under control fairly quickly, but 10 more minutes and it would have been a different story," Kaitaia station officer Craig Rogers said. About 400 sq m was burned.