An elderly Waipawa man says he is expecting a $300 fine for illegal burning after setting fire to the remnants of his fire-ravaged home, an act that sparked a heated confrontation with police and fire authorities.
Bruce Buchanan has apologised after he became aggressive when fire crews turned up to extinguish the fire, caused when he set alight a large 3m-high pile of debris.
Bruce and wife Jocelyn, both 60, relocated an old 1900s six-bedroom farm station from near Mangatanoika to Johnson St in the Central Hawke's Bay town in 2006.
Six and a half years ago, after becoming guardians of their grandsons Hunter, 10, and William, 9, who suffers from cerebral palsy and global developmental delays, they set about creating a dream home for the two boys.
It was completely gutted in a major blaze on July 15 and was reduced to a pile of rubble five days later by contractors, after it was issued with an unsafe and unsanitary notice by Central Hawke's Bay District Council at the request of fire authorities.
Early on Sunday morning, August 12, Bruce Buchanan set fire to the rubble pile in the mistaken belief he was allowed to do so, based on advice he said he was given by a fire officer soon after the original blaze.
With CHB in an open fire season, Buchanan said he was advised to set the debris alight and "let it burn through" rather than remove it.
So he and another person lit a fire around 7am and watched it throughout the day to make sure it "didn't get out of control".
He said the flames never reached more than a metre above the debris pile and the fire eventually went out, but then flared up again in the late afternoon with dusk approaching.
It is understood a neighbour called authorities to alert them to the fire, which was watched on by nearby residents.
Another resident, who did not want to be named, claimed that Buchanan tried to "impede, verbally abuse and threaten" fire officers, police and a district council staff member when they arrived to extinguish the fire, which the resident described as "a major hazard".
Buchanan admitted police were called after he became verbally "aggressive". But he explained it had been a stressful time because he had been living at the site and away from his wife and grandsons.
"I thought I was following the law. The police were called because I just got really upset.
"I apologise for being upset and saying the wrong words, but I can't apologise for grieving."
Then on Monday, Buchanan said he had been visited by a member of Hawke's Bay Regional Council's environmental pollution response team who told him to expect a $300 fine in the mail for illegal burning.
Since the fire it appears that tensions have been simmering between the Buchanans and their neighbours, with claims the couple have been burning rubbish - including plastics - at the site for the previous two weeks.
Jocelyn Buchanan, who was away for the weekend during the most recent fire, said although they had lit two or three contained rubbish fires in a makeshift fire pit surrounded by metal sheets, they had not been regularly burning plastics.
"We haven't been burning during the week; I've been too busy with the children. And we haven't been burning plastic – we've been burning matai – they were untouched floor boards in there."
A contractor was at the scene on Monday afternoon digging under the debris and fire crews were dousing the area with foam to make sure the fire was out.
CHB District Council chief executive Monique Davidson confirmed a staff member had been "verbally abused" and the incident had been recorded internally, but council was not taking any further action.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council compliance manager Wayne Wright confirmed council officers visited the site on Monday but they had yet to decide whether any enforcement action would be taken.