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Smoky winter fires ramp up complaints

Friday, 27 June 2014 10:00 a.m.

Smoky outdoor fires on cool days are ramping up the number of complaints being made to Bay of Plenty Regional Council about smoke nuisance.

And the number of complaints could easily be reduced if people managed fires well and understood the rules about what can be burned, Regional Council Pollution Prevention Officer Chris Brewer says.

The Regional Council received 10 smoky fire complaints on one day at the end of May, and all but one were caused by burning green vegetation.

“All of the alleged offenders claimed they did not know it was against best practice to burn green vegetative material. The prime cause of smoky fire complaints is the lack of awareness about the rules under the region’s Air Plan and management of fires,” he said.

The Regional Air Plan sets out rules that control the environmental effects of burning. Getting a fire permit from local city or district councils does not allow people to create a smoke nuisance or ignore the rules. District and city councils and the Fire Service manage fire bans and permits.

Mr Brewer said a smoky fire was a sure sign that waste material was being burned incorrectly.

“We are finding that many offenders are burning green waste that has not dried or seasoned, especially on orchards and in rural areas. Over winter the air is cooler, especially in the morning and early evening, and this creates an inversion layer where smoke is not able to rise.”

“Fires are being lit too close to roads and highways which can become hazardous for drivers. When green material is burnt wet it increases the amount of particulates in the air which can reduce visibility.”

He said people often complained because of the nuisance smoke could generate. Concerns included strong odour, people not being able to hang washing out, ash deposited on property and general annoyance. Others have complained about thick smoke exacerbating health issues, such as asthma.

He said people needed to ensure that offensive levels of smoke from fires did not travel across property boundaries.

“If people checked what they are burning, where they set fires and made sure that smoke didn’t cross their own property boundary then there would be fewer complaints,” he said.

It is illegal to burn chemicals, food waste, metals, paints, animal carcases, pesticides, plastic, rubber, treated timber, waste oil or anything that could produce toxic gases. The Regional Council’s Smoke Sense brochure provides information about fires, what can be burned and a summary of the rules about open fires. 

smokey fire