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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.