Fire could prove costly

Light a fire which gets out of control and you are liable to pay thousands of dollars to have it put out, the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Department of Conservation (Doc) say.

The warning came this week before the Lakes District bans all fires between December 21 and January 7. The risk of rural fire in the Wakatipu basin is already rated as ''high''.

''If you see fire or smoke during this time, you can assume it is non-permitted and wild and you should call 111,'' Doc Wakatipu rural fire officer Jamie Cowan said.

''The key message from fire investigations is if you light a fire, the cost of suppression is yours. A little camp fire in the red zone may end up with two helicopters on it because that's an automatic response. You are also liable for damage.''

A Queenstown youth paid a $6000 bill for the suppression of the fire his fireworks started on the top of Queenstown Hill, near the Basket of Dreams sculpture, one night in November last year. The cost included the use of a helicopter equipped with night vision equipment.

The fire on Mt Rosa, Gibbston, in February this year took rural and New Zealand Fire Service firefighters 18 hours to extinguish.

The party attributed with causing the fire was also charged $6000 for the cost of suppression.

Council principal rural fire officer Gordon Bailey said yesterday the risks were ever present.

''Even after a few showers, people shouldn't get a false sense of security.

''The nature of the vegetation and soil are so that they dry out pretty quickly and are a real factor in the risk of fires getting out of control very quickly.''