Burn-off sends cloud over city

Shades of Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now were evident on the Taieri yesterday, when a helicopter dropped a napalm-like chemical as part of a controlled burn.

The large fire near Allanton attracted dozens of spectators and prompted concerned calls to the Fire Service, as a dark cloud of smoke moved over Dunedin yesterday afternoon.

Helicopters Otago managing director Graeme Gale said the helicopter was dropping a gel-like substance - similar to napalm - which ignites when dropped on the ground.

The target of the burn-off was gorse previously sprayed by a farmer on a property off State Highway 1, just south of Allanton.

Mr Gale said the result was the gorse burnt quickly and cleanly under controlled conditions, and the burn also eradicated pests such as rats, mice and possums.

"The farmer can then get some productive land back."

Much planning went into such burn-offs, and pilots took the utmost safety precautions, he said.

"There is always a risk factor that it can get outside the burn area, but if it is controlled and you understand fire behaviour it is pretty predictable."

Fire Service communications spokesman Karl Patterson said the fire attracted a large number of onlookers, and also prompted five calls from residents.

"We also notified police because it was proving to be a bit of traffic hazard."

Several readers contacted the Otago Daily Times to report fine ash falling around the city, several initially mistaking it for snow.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz


Taieri fire

Airborne gel? Very different from Canterbury farmland clearances, where the farmer handed over a box of matches and said go for it.. ORC could have put an advisory on Radio Dunedin.

Double standards

What happened to the ORC's Clean Air Act? Are farmers excluded from that act and given the right to pollute a whole city while the poor old pensioners have to get rid of their open fires all over Otago because they're causing pollution?

Driver distraction?

I think there maybe should have been a police presence, or warning signs at surrounding points of SH1, so drivers had a bit of warning before coming upon all the stopped cars.
In saying that, we were there for half an hour or so (parked as far off the road as we could without going into the ditch - which not everyone did) and I didn't see any near misses.
The majority of the drivers kept looking at the flames while driving past, so perhaps it was a good thing traffic had to slow to 50kmh or so - otherwise there may have been a few centreline crosses at 100kmh.


Controlled burnoff?

I appreciate this was a controlled burnoff and that much "planning" went into it.  However, why did the organisers not notify the public?  This might have decreased the number of concerned calls to the fire service and alleviated public panic.  From Waverley, it looked like something severe might have happened (e.g. plane crash).  There was nothing on news websites until at least an hour after the smoke first appeared.

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