Burn-off smoke engulfs Hāwea

Hāwea residents were still unable to open their windows because of the smoke on Tuesday morning. | Andre Meyer

Twenty seven complaints were made to the Otago Regional Council’s (ORC) pollution response team in the last week after a fire on the Timsfield development in Hāwea caused thick smoke to cover the township.

A section of forest had been removed as part of the development, managed by Willowridge Developments and carried out by Central Machine Hire, and was sent to be burned off on Wednesday.

Resident Andre Meyer told the Wānaka Sun that the freshly-dug tree stumps were “wet and covered in mud,” which resulted in “very, very thick smoke.”

“On Thursday evening, the smoke was low over the town and could be smelt… it made me feel a bit sick in the stomach,” he said. Similar concerns were voiced by many residents on the Hāwea Community Notice Board Facebook page, who complained of an “acrid stench” which entered their houses.

Meyer said that after he made contact with Willowridge Development Manager Alan Dippie on Friday morning, a water truck was sent to put the fire out - but it was still burning on Monday evening. 

Willowridge Developments apologised to those affected. “As soon as we became aware that the fire was upsetting residents we took immediate action to minimise the problem,”  said Dippie. He promised “to manage this operation better,” but Hāwea residents were still unable to open their windows because of the smoke on Tuesday morning.

Dippie went on to say that many residents were “pleased to see these trees removed,” pointing to pedestrians on the paper road walkway of Capell Ave through to Cemetery Road. “In recent years, these trees had become prone to being windblown and we were increasingly concerned about safety of the walkway users,” he said. “The residents of Sentinel Park are also very pleased to see these trees gone due to fire risk and shading.

“Removal of these trees will also pave the way to the forming of the rest of Capell Ave, which will be of great benefit to Hāwea connectivity. So, whilst the interim effects have been negative, the long term outlook is fabulous.”

An ORC spokesperson said the matter was under assessment and they were unable to provide further comment.

“We are always grateful to members of the community all over Otago for calling in concerns about potential pollution. This is a good reminder for all that if you are concerned about potential pollution from smoke from a nearby property’s burn-off, the best thing to do is let us know via our 24/7 Pollution Hotline.” 

This reminder may come in useful for Wānaka residents, a number of whom complained of “unacceptable” levels of smoke yesterday following a burn-off near Three Parks which covered the town.

An ORC spokesperson said staff attended a burn-off near Wanaka on Tuesday, following a number of complaints to its pollution hotline. The source of smoke was two rural properties conducting joint burn-offs.  

As the matter is now under assessment, ORC is not able to provide further comment.

View edition 985 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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