Fire ban: No hangi without permission

By Rebecca Malcolm


Rotorua people won't be able to put down a hangi unless fire officers deem it safe after extremely dry conditions have forced the first total fire ban in the city in more than a decade.

It won't just be those wanting to put down hangi who are affected - using pizza ovens, outdoor braziers and even fish smokers will require the Rotorua District Council's go-ahead after a complete fire ban was put in place to help ease the extreme fire risk.

Acting principal rural fire officer for the Rotorua district, Richard Horn, said putting the ban in place wasn't the sort of thing they did "willy nilly" and the last total fire ban was 10 or 11 years ago.

However, the tinder dry conditions left the council with no choice and they had joined with Pumicelands and the Department of Conservation (DoC) rural fire authorities to initiate the total fire ban which applies to all urban and rural areas of the district as well as DoC land.

Existing fire permits have been cancelled and no new permits or extensions are being issued during the period of the ban. Anyone wanting to put down a hangi or use a pizza oven or outdoor brazier will need to apply for an exemption from the council.

Exceptions that would be considered are for genuine health reasons such as disposal of dead stock or cultural reasons such as tangi, but residents still need to apply.

There is no cost to apply for an exemption and it would involve inspectors visiting the site to check the activity was safe. Applications would be considered on a case by case basis.

Mr Horn said most people would understand the need for the ban and there had been a couple of close calls over the past week including a fire at Waikite Valley and one at Ngapuna which had the potential to be quite dangerous.

He said the dry conditions combined with high wind could increase risk even further.

Mr Horn said anyone wanting to lay a hangi needed to contact the council as soon as possible, especially with Waitangi Day coming up.

It was possible people would be given the go-ahead to lay hangi in other situations and they were advised to contact the council.

"We're there to help people out."

He said tourism operations weren't likely to be affected as most used gas. Any doing traditional hangi with wood should contact the council to have it approved.

Mr Horn said he had been working with Raggamuffin organisers but said they would not be affected.

He said the fire ban applied to anything that used wood or charcoal for burning.

He said fish smokers were "probably okay" if they were fully enclosed but people needed to contact the council before using them to check.

The decision has sparked plenty of debate on The Daily Post Facebook page - with more than 40 comments and 15 likes by late yesterday afternoon.

One reader said "Yep fair enough! I would rather that than be the cause of a huge fire, loss of lives and property!" and "i TOTALLY AGREE with the fire ban, it only takes 1 little ember to fly in the air and burn a house down, fire permits are a good idea, at least if u were to get 1 u will take full responsibility if anything were to happen. j.s"

Others thought it was a step too far.

"Hahaha since when have Maori ever listened to rules like that lol I would lay a hangi just because of that law lol" said one reader.

Another said "come on. we aint that stupid to be causing huge as fire, since when has there bn reports of making hangis has caused a big massive fire?"

Meanwhile, the Taupo District Council has temporarily stopped issuing fire permits with principal rural fire officer Phil Parker saying the risk of fire was just too high.

Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provincial president John Scrimgeour said milk production was sliding, with pastures looking really bare for a lot of farmers and sheep farmers were selling their store lambs rather than fattening them up, meaning their incomes would also take a big hit.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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