The Army could be charged with arson after a live firing
exercise yesterday (Wednesday) went wrong and sparked a large
scrub fire, if police believe they were reckless.
Police are working with the New Zealand Defence Force to work
out how the fire started at Burnham Military Training Area at
West Melton, outside Christchurch.
The NZDF will also be forced to foot the bill for fighting
the blaze, police confirmed today.
Soldiers had been doing live firing training, using hand
grenades and small arms, went the fire broke out on
tinder-box dry scrub land.
The fire took hold quickly, fanned by dry, blustery
nor-westers, and it took a massive operation with 60
firefighters and six helicopters with monsoon buckets to
bring it under control hours later.
In the aftermath, the police are weighing up their options
and assessing whether to pursue criminal charges against the
"The charge of arson is available to these matters if the
element of recklessness can be proven," Detective Inspector
Tom Fitzgerald, district manager investigations, said.
However the senior officer stressed: "There is nothing, at
this stage, to suggest that defence have been reckless.
Police understand that they had a fire appliance on site in
case of a spark, as they recognised the risk."
The Army yesterday said a live firing training exercise was
being held on a gravel area, with a fire appliance on site,
when the fire started.
Five houses near West Melton Airport were evacuated and
nearby property owners were told to prepare to leave after
the fire broke out around noon.
It made its way on to a neighbouring pig farm but was soon
Firefighters feared it would jump Weedons Ross Rd and
threaten houses, but they were able to beat it back.
One soldier was hurt trying to put the fire but his injuries
were not serious.
Incident controller Sergeant Greg Fagg of the 3rd Emergency
Response Troop based at Burnham Military Camp said they had
taken measures to prevent a fire from starting, but the blaze
had done "exactly what it shouldn't have done".
- Kurt Bayer of APNZ