Record amount of fires during New Zealand Guy Fawkes

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Monday, November 6, 2006

Violent reaction of sparkler. Photograph by Gabriel Pollard.

There were a record amount of fire calls during Guy Fawkes night, the festivities had emergency services stretched to the limit, a spokesman for the NZ Fire service said that it was "like driving through a war zone." Despite this, no major structure fires were reported.

Preliminary numbers show that the amount of minor fires reported amounted to 1,729 between the period of October 27 and November 5. For the same period last year, 2005, there were only 1,632. Last year's numbers were also record setting at the time. Over the Guy Fawkes weekend, November 4 - November 5, there were 784 reports of fires. The actual numbers will be released soon, as the false alarms and multiple reports are separated out. A safety campaign by the NZ Fire brigade advising the public to call 111 on the suspicion of any fire is expected to have increased the number of calls per incident. Discussions on the NZ volunteer firefighter's mailing list suggest that the majority of bad behaviour occurred in urban areas.

The New Zealand police had to report to 423 reports of disorder in the top half on the North Island alone and in just seven hours. There was a fight which involved 40 people, in Whitianga; police were called to break up that fight and were also called to stop youths from getting fireworks from a shop. Also, in Tauranga, police were called to a fight party of 200 youths at 1.00 a.m. In Mount Albert, Auckland, police were forced to retreat and wait for reinforcements during an incident.

In Wellington, New Zealand, the police had to make 39 arrests, including assaults, disorderly behaviors and liquor ban breaches. The police said it was as bad as New Year's Eve. "It was as busy as New Year's Eve. It was one of the busiest nights we have had this year," Sergeant Maggie Windle said, "Alcohol was a big factor in a lot of the arrests and a lot of the offending. We were dealing with the bulk of this mass disorder."

Remarkably, the St John's Ambulance Service reported only one serious firework related injury; a stabbing following an incident involving fireworks.

Mike Hall, chief executive/national commander of the New Zealand Fire Service, said: "The unfortunate result vindicates his call for a retail ban on fireworks, made last month. Despite warnings and a safety campaign, and even with parts of the country being much wetter than they were last year, firefighters were still called out more times than ever. That means that firefighters cannot respond as quickly as they would like to genuine emergencies, and thousands of volunteers across the country are needlessly called away from work and family commitments."

The Government had previously warned the public that a ban on the public sale of fireworks would be enacted if behaviour was deemed unacceptable over the Guy Fawkes season.

Opinon polls indicate that the public is divided 50:50 over permitting the sale of fireworks, or wanting to see fireworks restricted to public displays or licensed operators. Mr. Hall said "the public are also sick of the danger to themselves, property and pets posed by misuse of fireworks, not to mention the late-night noise and mess associated with people letting off fireworks indiscriminately. The lack of a major fireworks-related fire or fatality at the weekend was pure luck."

Allegedly Dunedin students were burning furniture in the streets.

Marian Hobbs, Member of Parliament, said that she has put in a bill to stop fireworks to be used by the public: "I'm not saying ban fireworks. I'm not a killjoy. But it does give us powers to stop what is dangerous, time-consuming and expensive. We have to make a start and put our foot down on this."

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