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ORC issues warning about uncontrolled outdoor burning

October 8, 2015

ORC issues warning about uncontrolled outdoor burning

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) has received many complaints recently about uncontrolled outdoor bonfires, mainly relating to incidents in Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes District.

ORC director environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said the council had recently successfully prosecuted three parties for burning prohibited items and discharging objectionable smoke beyond a property boundary.

Mr MacLean said 55 outdoor burning-related complaints were received between 1 July and 28 September. Of these, 21 related to incidents in the Queenstown Lakes District and 17 in Central Otago.

The Otago Rural Fire Authority is currently operating an open fire season which allows outdoor fires to be lit provided they meet a range of conditions (see the ORFA website www.otagoruralfire.org.nz). If these conditions can’t be met, a permit must then be obtained from the authority.

Mr MacLean said in the recent cases ORC prosecuted, the types of prohibited items being burned included poisonous materials such as plastic, refrigerators, washing machines, and tyres.

“Burning material that produce toxic smoke is unacceptable, and ORC compliance staff will be particularly vigilant in dealing with these breaches of the outdoor burning rules,” he said.

Air pollution and odour from rampant smoke, in the backyard of a house or in the wide open spaces of a farm or lifestyle block, can annoy neighbours and affect people’s health, as well as harm the experience many tourists have in Otago.

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Complaints about such incidents are often top of the list for the number of environmental incidents investigated by ORC staff, indicating that more care needs to be taken with outdoor burning.

Breaching the rules can result in an instant fine of $300, and depending on the severity of the incident, other enforcement action such as prosecution may also follow, Mr MacLean said.

The Otago Air Plan contains rules to minimise any impact outdoor smoke might have on people and the environment. The key rule is that most outdoor fires must be kept at least 50 metres from any boundary and not put out objectionable smoke to neighbours, beyond the boundary of the property.

It is prohibited to burn many materials – these include:

• Tyres, rubber tubes, and foam rubber

• Any treated timber including plywood, chipboard, particle board, and fibreboard

• Used oil and other petrol related products. This includes oil, diesel, and turpentine.

• Food waste

• Any chemicals, including garden sprays and agricultural chemicals

• All plastics, including disposal nappies

• Paints of all kinds, including varnish, glues, adhesives, and polyurethanes.

Mr MacLean said the wind can carry smoke for some distance, causing problems for people over large areas and as has been the case in Central Otago, strong winds can fan a fire into an uncontrollable and dangerous blaze.

“Timing and consideration of others is everything when it comes to deciding when to start outdoor fires,” he said.

Burning wet material should be avoided because of the large amounts of smoke that can be produced. A brochure on the ORC website (www.orc.govt.nz) Outdoor burning in Otago has more information on what’s safe to burn and what’s not.

Mr MacLean said ORC relied in many cases on the public contacting it through its Pollution Hotline (phone 0800 800 033) to report nuisance fires. Information provided through the hotline is handled in complete confidence.


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