By Robyn Bristow
Toxic black smoke billowed into the air near Amberley on Monday night as hundreds of tyres went up in flames.
It was a fire the Broomfield-Waipara community had feared happening for months and they are angry tyres dumped at the Racecourse Road property have not been removed.
Police, who are treating the fire as suspicious, urged people to stay indoors, put towels in any gaps around windows and doors, and evacuate if anyone had respiratory problems.
As it continued to burn on Tuesday, it forced the closure of the Broomfield School at 1pm, following a wind change and advice from the Ministry of Education to send pupils home.
There were initial fears an aquifer supplying water to the Amberley township might be contaminated and that grapes in the nearby 325-hectare Waiata Vineyard might have been affected by the black smoke.
For now these fears have proved unfounded.
However, a spokesperson at the Waiata Vineyard says the company is keeping a file and photos on the fire in case they may need to look at insurance at a later date.
She said the smoke was above the vines as it was swept along by a south to south west breeze. The fire was in a pile of about 500 tyres, not the 600,000-tyre mountain nearby.
Waipara organic farmer Angela Clifford says Environment Canterbury has agreed to front the community at a meeting in the Amberley Rugby Club at 7pm.
She says it has been 18 months since an abatement notice was served to stop the stockpiling of old tyres and more than a year since a fire was put out close by.
“Despite imploring our council and local MP to take action, as a community we’ve seen nothing but hand-wringing and blame-passing between Hurunui District Council and Environment Canterbury and the government.
“It’s inaction that lead to the inevitable fire,” she says.
“While we realise there’s a prosecution in front of the courts, we think it’s reasonable that the parties involved address the local community, so we can understand how to progress together.
“We are seeking a public meeting about this. The current situation is untenable and could lead to an even more disastrous outcome. I would imagine that nobody who works for those organisations wants to be remembered for that.
Ms Clifford says the community wants the tyres removed “quickly”.
“We realise there may be a cost to this, but there’s money to invest in the Hurunui Water Project so obviously the solution is as simple as reorganising priorities.
“We think the health of people and our environment should be a major priority for any organisation who purports to represent us,” she says.
Bruce Janes, principal Rural Fire Officer, North Canterbury says there was nothing found by two fire investigators to indicate how the fire started.
“Because of the heat they were only able to find the point of origin,” he said.
An excavator driven by a local was able to dig a moat between the mountain of tyres and the fire to ensure it could not spread.
At one stage up to 19 fire engines from local brigades throughout North Canterbury were in attendance, but Mr Janes said no water or foam could be used to put the fire out.
“There were lots of resources last night and fortunately the wind direction was good,” he said.
A mitigation plan for a fire in the tyres had been written by the Amberley Volunteer Brigade which was to “let it burn”.
On Tuesday Environment Canterbury took over the monitoring of the fire and smothered it with clay to ensure the health and safety of the community.
Hurunui District chief executive Hamish Dobbie says an abatement notice issued in 2016 had
stopped more tyres being dumped, but the council had then been left with the residual problem of the mountain of tyres.
It had since worked alongside Environment Canterbury which had taken enforcement action
over the tyre dump.
The matter was now before the Court.
He says disposal of end-of-life tyres is a national issue with around four to five million removed from vehicles each year.
“There is no system to dispose of them.
“Then this sort of thing happens (stockpiling of tyres) and it causes problems,” says Mr Dobbie.