Fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fire-fighting costs could await anyone who flouts fire restrictions now in place in Whangarei and Kaipara.
A restricted fire season has been declared as the current and predicted weather indicates fire danger will continue to increase over the next few weeks.
Whangarei principal rural fire officer Kevin Ihaka said extra care was needed to ensure the community was safe from wildfires. The risk of fires getting out of control was far greater on days with high winds, he said, and wind was something people often underestimated.
"An increase in the wind speed of just 10 km/h will double the intensity and rate of spread of a fire, quickly making fires uncontrollable," Mr Ihaka said.
"You can light a fire in the morning and it's okay, and then the wind can pick up in the afternoon and it can spread very quickly."
The cost of fighting fires could run up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if equipment such as helicopters needed to be brought in. Those responsible for causing the blazes could be traced and fined.
Officials were encouraging people not to burn anything they didn't need to, particularly things like scrub cuttings.
"We will not be issuing permits for fires that can be reasonably delayed until the fire risk reduces or if the task can be achieved by a method other than fire. The risk is simply not worth it," Mr Ihaka said.
The restriction applies to all open fires including fireworks, rubbish fires, bush clearing fires, bonfires - including fires on beaches - and it puts conditions on the use of barbecues, spits, hangi and umu.
People using commercially constructed barbecues, incinerators, cooking fires such as umu, hangi and spit fires must make sure that: they are supervised by a responsible adult at all times; a pressured supply of water is at hand; the fire is extinguished as soon as the task is complete; a clear area of at least 10m is maintained around the fire; and that the fire is no larger than two metres by two metres.
A warranted fire officer can request that any barbecue, incinerator or other fire be extinguished if it was considered a danger.
"Anyone breaching the rules will get very little sympathy as needless fire fighting not only costs ratepayers, but takes up volunteer time and puts lives at risk," Mr Ihaka said.
Information about current fire danger, safety advice, and online permit applications is at www.havingafire.org.nz