Emergency responders from Fire and Emergency New Zealand [Fenz] and the police were called to a bonfire in Matahiwi, Masterton, on Saturday night – despite there being a total fire ban on all open-air fires in Wairarapa.
A Fenz spokesperson confirmed that the bonfire had been intentionally lit and due to it being a prohibited fire season, crews from Masterton and Carterton extinguished the fire immediately.
“Even the smallest spark can ignite a much larger fire,” they said.
They said that lighting an open-air fire during a prohibited fire season is illegal under the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act, 2017.
“If convicted of an offence, an individual could face up to two years in prison or a fine not exceeding $300,000, or both.”
Police also attended the fire in Matahiwi on Saturday night.
“[We] were notified of a group of people that had lit a bonfire on the beach Saturday night,” a police spokesperson said.
The group were reminded of the total fire ban in the area and no further action was required by the police.
Fenz responded to a second fire on Saturday night in Te Ore Ore, Masterton, which they were able to get under control “pretty quickly”.
The scrub fire was measured to be approximately 60 by 5 metres in size and was in control within 15 minutes of the crews’ arrival.
The attending brigades included Masterton, Wainuioru, and Carterton.
During the past few weeks, there have been at least three fires sparked by people failing to adhere to the total fire ban.
Two of these incidents were of incinerators being used to burn household and garden waste, with the third being a rubbish fire.
The prohibited fire season started almost three weeks ago, on January 23.
As of Friday morning, February 9, all fireworks and sky lanterns were banned for the Wellington District, which includes Wairarapa.
Wellington District community risk manager Phil Soal said the fire danger risk in Wellington and Wairarapa had escalated, and the potential use of fireworks or sky lanterns would be too risky.
Soal also encouraged people to call 111 immediately if they see signs of a fire – particularly in rural areas.
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa] has also warned that persistent hotspots in Wairarapa has resulted in “severely drier than normal” soil due to a moisture deficit.
Despite showers throughout the weekend, Niwa has predicted a large area of high pressure will arrive in the coming days and bring with it a week of dry weather.