As 10ha of pine forest burnt and six homes were evacuated last week, many people were shaking their heads and murmuring in anger against fireworks.
Watching the flames lick closer to his house, Hawea resident Geoff Kernick says he was “numb” as it all started to unfold.
“We were pretty sure the house was going to go. We were watching what was happening and the helicopters were amazing but we were sure it was going to go. But we were safe and the house was insured so there wasn’t much we could do about it. We just had to let the professionals get on with their job,” he said.
Kernick said they heard early on that fireworks were suspected, which was confirmed by Bobby Lamont, Deputy Principal Rural Fire Officer for Central Otago (pictured below).
“It is suspected fireworks at this stage because of evidence found nearby of used fireworks canisters, but until the police have finalised things we can’t say that with absolute certainty. And it’s pure speculation about who it was and I’m not going to point a finger,” Lamont said.
It has since been reported that police are actively pursuing a lead due to fortuitous placement of CCTV cameras at various points around the area.
The consequences if caught will involve paying back all costs involved in fighting the fire and paying for damage caused. And whilst no houses were lost, there are many trees that suffered fire damage that now have to be removed as they could blow over in a stiff breeze and cause further damage; so the estimate of costs to be recovered is only just beginning.
“I don’t see fascination with having your own fireworks,” said Kernick. “I find them disappointing. As a kid I was acutely aware of fire danger so never really got into them. I would certainly support a ban if that’s what the public initiated towards our lawmakers.”
Lamont is slightly more forgiving of public access to fireworks but wants stricter controls, not just on the window of opportunity to buy, but also when they can be lit: “You shouldn’t be able to buy them in November then let them off in February when everything is tinder dry.”
The Wanaka Sun is running a poll to ascertain local attitudes to fireworks. Do you support a ban? Have your say on www.thewanakasun.co.nz.