'Tragedy waiting to happen'

A burnt mattress lies in Howe St in Dunedin yesterday afternoon. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A burnt mattress lies in Howe St in Dunedin yesterday afternoon. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Lives were put at risk from couch fires lit too close to houses in Dunedin's student quarter, Dunedin police and the Fire Service have warned.

The Fire Service attended seven couch fires on Saturday night and early yesterday, including two lit close to houses.

One, at a brick house on the corner of Dundas and Castle Sts was set against a house, scorching it and cracking windows.

A bonfire at the back of a Howe St house attracted hundreds of party-goers, many looking down from nearby roofs.

''Kids are going to die down there. It's all fun and games while it's happening, but there's a tragedy waiting to happen down there,'' Senior Sergeant Matt Scoles told the Otago Daily Times.

''It scares me that these fires are taking place so close to what must be flipping tinder boxes down there. Once one goes, they'll have days down there putting it out, because they won't be able to stop it going from house to house,'' Snr Sgt Scoles said.

Police attended three parties with about 300 party-goers at each, in the Dundas St, Castle St and Howe St area.

Two people were arrested for disorderly behaviour at the Howe St bonfire.

''I think a lot of students are coming to Dunedin from out of town under the impression that they can't wait for Friday and Saturday night so they can start burning stuff.

''It's no fun having to tell parents, or have some of our colleagues in the North Island go and tell these kids' parents that Joe Student has been found dead in their bed.

''Sooner or later someone's going to be in one of these flats KO'd because of too much alcohol. Their flat is going to go up. We're not going to know they're in there until the fire investigators find them the next day,'' Snr Sgt Scoles said.

Exacerbating the situation was a large number of secondary school pupils, who were increasingly attending parties in the area.

He acknowledged that in general couch fires had been declining. The end of re-orientation and a warmer-than-usual temperature were both likely factors in the disorder, he said.

Willowbank station officer Mark Dyer said Saturday night was a ''bit of an aberration'' because couch fires had been less frequent.

The fires were lit between about 9.30pm and 1.30am. The central city station was called to assist Willowbank with the Howe St bonfire.

His main concern was the proximity of two fires to houses. He had only seen a couple of other couch fires lit so close to dwellings in his career.

The Howe St bonfire, in a courtyard at a ''huge party'' with ''hundreds of kids'', started as a couch fire.

''There was a potential there for kids to be hurt. There were kids sitting on roofs all over the place. They're going to harm themselves, that's the trouble.''

Apart from a ''few idiots'', the hundreds of party-goers were largely well behaved, he said.

A bottle and a couple of cans were thrown at firefighters, who were not hurt. It was fortunate the fire on the Dundas St and Castle St corner was set against a brick house.

''If it hadn't been brick it would have been well alight. In fact, if we hadn't got there much sooner, it would have been well alight.''

An Otago University Students' Association spokesman said the disorder was disappointing. OUSA had been working with emergency services to reduce couch fires, and would continue to do so.

''We want students to have a great time but it shouldn't come at the risk of anyone's lives or houses.''

The University of Otago declined to comment.


Future leaders

It's all acceptable behaviour isn't it, if you can flog off a nation what's a few worn out couches and an old flat or two. Go for you lives follow your leader's example.

Students are worth too much to Dunedin to be stopped aren't they? They'll be leaders in a few years.


driver: Yeah let's stack a few more sofas against wooden houses - why waste a sofa on a brick wall? Burn down a heap of old houses. After all who cares? Certainly not the "students". Let's toss a streaker or two in there as well. Gotta let the students have their fun eh? But I am puzzled? What drives a student to run around in the nude in mid-winter? After all they never walk! Advertising their wares perhaps because they fail to attract the opposite sex? Too short? Too small? And as for those brave lads who light fires then hide behind others while tossing beer cans aiming to hurt people - obviously leaders of the near future?

Let them go to it

It's been going on unchecked for decades . Why bother with stopping it now ... If parents are prepared to allow their young to attend Otago University they know exactly what they are in for...so don't bother them with the details .. Disruption by students is a badge of honour in Dunedin, after all the University expects locals to just accept damage and to pay up ! Just keep it going in Dunedin, at least our towns are safe.

Why all the fuss!

Come on authorities...it's just a bit of arson here and there, don't be so grumpy, there were no fatalities and only seven deliberately lit fires. Let's all be very very thankful and the police will agree that fortunately we did not have a streaker running through the student quarters as that would have been catastrophic to deal with for students and authorities/Police alike. Life and property damaged by arson is one thing but streaking or running around in the buff will under no circumstances be tolerated in this city, mark my words!!