A Horowhenua fire and emergency service boss is pleading for people to stop lighting rubbish fires after callouts to backyard burn-offs almost tripled in the last month.

Assistant area commander Ian Penn said the more than 250 per cent increase in responses to emergency calls for minor fires had put added pressure on volunteer staff during a difficult time.

"It has put added pressure on staff and families. There was a lot of angst early on the piece," he said.

"It's taking people out of their bubbles and that's the last thing we want to at the moment."


Every emergency call had to be taken seriously and was a call to arms for volunteers, he said.

While callouts to motor vehicle accidents had decreased during lockdown, there was a surge in fires as people were using the extra time on their hands to burn rubbish.

Flames came very close to the Stuckey Street house.
Flames came very close to the Stuckey Street house.

"We've definitely had more calls for rubbish fires than normal earlier on ... nuisance fires ... but in saying that we've had the odd crop burn-off get out of control," he said.

"People should hold off on lighting fires for the time being," he said.

Staff had been excellent in responding to the added pressures of lockdown, he said. The volunteer unit had been split into divisions, or bubbles, inside the brigade, although that system was revisited in level 3 when some volunteers went back to their day jobs.

Penn said it was also a good time to stress the importance of having chimneys swept before the winter cold bit, and to check smoke alarms were operating.

He also said a common cause of fire during winter came when a fire box was cleaned of ash and embers were put outside or in the rubbish bin, only to reignite.

All ash from a fire box should be emptied into a steel container, he said.


"You wouldn't believe how many fires start that way," he said.

Meanwhile, the increase in callouts for the local fire brigade was mirrored nationally.

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National manager community readiness and recovery Steve Turek said Fire and Emergency was asking people to do their bit to minimise the risk of fire, and the number of avoidable callouts for our firefighters.

"Between March 23 and April 22 we responded to nearly 750 preventable rubbish fires - more than double the number for the same period last year when we responded to nearly 390 rubbish fires," he said.

"Even if a fire is permitted and under control, the smoke often generates a 111 call from well-meaning members of the public.

"Every time this happens, our firefighters need to leave their isolation bubble and risk potential exposure to Covid-19.

"Please consider alternatives to lighting fires if you can and hold off from rubbish fires, garden waste fires, and controlled burn offs, unless it is for essential industry, for example crop farmers.

"If you think your fire is essential and you've applied for a permit, please be patient. During Covid-19 alert level 3 it may take longer than usual for permit applications to be processed. And when you do burn, burn safely.

"Help us to keep you and our firefighters safe during these unprecedented times by not lighting any outdoor fires."

People can find out more at www.checkitsalright.nz