Rotorua council cautions safety following sulphur fires
Monday 4 November 2013
Rotorua council cautions safety following series of sulphur fires
Rotorua District Council (RDC) is urging local residents to be on the lookout for smoke or fires in Sulphur Point and Ngapuna following a number of small sulphur fires in those areas over the past two weeks.
Sulphur fires are a natural event which can occur as a result of sulphur growing and pushing its way to the surface, forming yellow mounds. Leaves and twigs from nearby tea trees accumulate on the mounds when there is no rain to wash it away. A combination of heat in the ground and the sun can ignite the dry material, which in turn ignites the sulphur.
RDC general inspector geothermal, Peter Brownbridge, said in the past couple of weeks there have been four sulphur fires in the Sulphur point area alone.
“So far we’ve been lucky the fires have been spotted and our local fire service has extinguished them before the flames have reached nearby dry scrub in the affected areas.
“The reason we’re having
fires at this time of year is still a bit of a mystery
although some patterns are starting to emerge. We’re
certain however that the fires are a naturally occurring
phenomenon and are not being deliberately lit.”
Mr Brownbridge said in daylight the flames are not visible, and apart from the smoke, all that can be seen is a black mark spreading along the ground as the sulphur slowly burns. He urges local people to call the Rotorua Fire Service as soon as they see smoke in these areas.
“I’d caution people not to approach the fire because when sulphur burns it produces sulphur dioxide which is a very toxic gas and is an acute irritant.
“The tea tree and debris underneath is tinder dry and people may potentially find themselves in a life-threatening situation if the fire takes hold in the surrounding scrub. Some of the ground surface in these areas has a very thin crust which people can also fall through and so this is another danger to be aware of,” he said.