An "apologetic" landowner appears lucky to have escaped enforcement action after a horticultural burn-off blanketed Waipukurau in smoke last week.
Looking north from Pukeora Hill, most of Waipukurau was obscured by a thick, smoky haze just after 8.30am last Tuesday on the fine, still autumn morning.
Residents complained on social media about the smoke from the burn-off on Takapau Rd. Trapped by an inversion layer, they said the smoke had an offensive odour, aggravated some people's asthma, forced parents to keep children indoors and dropped ash on cars and washing.
CHB District Council chief executive Monique Davidson confirmed council received complaints from residents as far as Tavistock Rd about the burn-off.
"It was obvious that there was an inversion layer issue. Our [council] bylaw says that one can't create a nuisance with their smoke and council was eventually able to source the location and cause of the smoke. The bylaws officer discussed this with the land owner who was most apologetic," she said.
However she said council only had a mandate to act on the 'nuisance' aspect, and now considered the matter closed.
Hawke's Bay regional council's (HBRC) environmental pollution response officer Mikey Willcox suggested the landowner was lucky not have had enforcement taken against them for breaching air quality rules.
"Looking at [the] photos we definitely would have been down there to take action – that looks unacceptable," he said.
Horticultural burn-offs in the Napier and Hastings urban air sheds are restricted between May and August, but with CHB currently in an open fire season, landowners are permitted under the regional plan to burn prunings, trees, untreated timber, paper and cardboard.
However objectionable levels of smoke, ash or odours that cause problems beyond a property boundary are not permitted. Guidelines also urge avoiding burning on calm, cool days as the smoke gets trapped by the inversion layer and forms a large cloud.
Mr Willcox urged landowners to be mindful of the conditions before conducting burn-offs to avoid breaching air quality rules.
"I always tell them don't do it in built up areas, and do it when there is no wind or at least when the wind is blowing away from urban areas. Of course what they burn is also important – no rubbish, plastic, treated timbers etc are permitted to be burnt."
HBRC chairman Rex Graham, a former grower, spoke out last year about the environmental and health effects of horticultural burn-offs. He said last week's example in CHB was "atrocious".
"It makes me really mad when I see photos like this. No one has a right to pollute their neighbour's air like this.
"No civilised country allows this behaviour and its time that we grew up and accepted that we have a responsibility to each other.
"These fires are a disgrace."
Teresa Demetriou, Head of Education and Research at the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, warned smoke from a burn-off could trigger asthma flare-ups.
"Smoke inhalation is one such trigger leading to breathlessness, coughing and a tight chest. Anyone with a respiratory condition should not be exposed to smoky atmospheres, and windows and doors should be kept closed.".