Fire bug puts lives at risk

Fire bug puts lives at risk

06 December 2011

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New Zealand — Residents are being urged to come forward if they have any information about a spate of suspicious fires in the Kaipara in the last fortnight.

Kaipara District Council emergency support officer Jim Goodland says it it is only a matter of time before we have a significant fire that will cost ratepayers a lot of money.

“It may also possibly cause someone to be injured, lose their life or their house. We just don’t want that,” he says.

Arson is suspected in four blazes along State Highway 12 late last month, while another grass fire in Redhill last week could also be deliberately lit.

“I’m not sure whether it [the Redhill fire] was suspicious or not. It was a grass fire that needed to be brought under control.

“But it could well have been a suspicious fire or lit with careless disregard.”

Two men lost their lives last week on Karikari Peninsula in the Far North while attending a blaze also thought to be deliberately lit.

Mr Goodland says the cost to the community is huge.

“It cost the Kaipara District Council in the region of $2 million last year, and the Far North District Council $5m. This year we’re looking at $2m in the Far North already.

“People think the fire brigade doesn’t cost but it does, it comes out of ratepayer and taxpayer pockets.”

He urges anyone with information on the fires to give the police or council a call, even anonymously. “Then we can have a word with these people and try and stop them from doing it again.”

Firestarters face up to 14 years’ in jail and full cost recovery if they are convicted.

“If we decide to prosecute, the maximum penalty under the Forest and Rural Fires Act is $2000 or two months’ jail, but if the fire is serious enough, then the police can use the Crimes Act and the penalty there is off the scale.”

Mr Goodland says the last time the Crimes Act was enforced was in 1997. The defendant was convicted, ordered to pay full restitution and received a suspended prison sentence.

“`If they hadn’t complied with the cost recovery and the very stringent bail conditions they would have gone to jail,” he says. `

`And in 1999 we prosecuted a farmer for breaching the prohibited fire season. He was fined $1200, full cost recovery and court costs.”

Meanwhile a restricted fire ban comes into effect in the Kaipara on December 17, but Mr Goodland urges Kaipara residents not to light fires “unless they absolutely have to”.

“Take your rubbish to the dump. Don’t burn it,” he says.

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