THE Wellington Independent. "NOTHING EXTENUATE; NOR SET DOWN AUGHT IN MALICE." TUESDAY MORNING, 16th FEBRUARY. BUSH FIRES— A WARNING.
There was considerable alarm felt the other day, in the neighbourhood of Schultze's mill, with reference to the bush fire which the high wind was spreading extensively, and during this and tbe ensuing month there will no doubt be the usual destruction of fences and other property from a similar cause. The setting fire to fallen bush under any circumstances involves so much danger in settled districts, that parties are bound to take every precaution by selecting calm days, or those with the wind in an opposite direction to the property most likely to bo threatened. It not unfrequently happens, however, that the greatest carelessness exists, and parties commence burning with no thought or care in reference to their neighbours. A few of the country settlers imagine that there is a sort of suspension of the law during February and March, and that in either of those. months bush may be fired without fear as to the consequences ; while many of them are to a great extent ignorant of their liability for damages done by fires, however remote from the place of their kindling. About this time last year, there was a very extensive bush fire on the Canterbury peninsula, which resulted in an action in the Supreme Court (Holmes v. Hay sen.) and the recovery of £3,000 damages. Last summer, itwill be recollected, was an unusually dry one and more than ordinary care became necessary ; but in this case a very large destruction of property aroso from an act of thoughtlessness — thoughtlessness such as in one shape or another is often exercised in our provinco. On the 17th of January, a young man named James Hay was endeavoring to yard his father's cattle, and as they could not be got out of some scrub he set fire to it for that purpose — the scrub being on his father's land. The fire soon caught the grass, spreading as fast as a horse can trot first in one direction and then in another; changing its line for the next three months as often as the wind shifted, until it was finally extinguished. Amongst otherdamage the fire destroyed on the 12th February, i.e., several weeks after it was first lit, 300 to 400 acres of valuable standing timber, the property of Mr George Holmes, to market which, large saw mills wore in the course of erection. This timber was valued at £3000, and although Mr Holmes' overseer admitted that "in December a fire broke out on the property, owing to the accidental ignition of a chimney, which destroyed an acre of timber," and that " subsequently a fire happened at the same place from a match dropped by a man lighting a pipe," — although defendant called witnesses with a view to show that a second fire met the one origi--1 nated by James Hay, yot the jury gave full damages for the plaintiff. Tho issues j were : — 1. Did tho defendant by himself, or by his servant, negligently, wrongfully, and improperly light and keep or cause and procure to be lighted and kept in and upon his closo, a fire at the time and in manner in the declaration mentioned. 2. "Was the fire which consumed, damaged, destroyed, and disfigured the timber and other trees standing and growing on the close of the plaintiff*, caused by the extension of fire lighted in and upon the close of defendant. 3. Is tho plaintiff entitled to any and what damages by reason of the injury done by the said fire. The Judge in summing up said "He rejoiced at tho attention and intelligence of the jury. He wbuld tell them that when aj $ce r * son did an act iix the service of anbther ' which Je.d7td : f the injury of a third person, if jar l -»»,.., .t i
ho did it by the express command or not by the express command but within the scope of his employment, AheA was . ; liable f<Jr„ any damages that may. rosulfc'-' The important question was — if>tlicy"were satisfied that James Hay lighted the lire— whether it was the extension of that. fire that did the injury to the plaintiff. So far as the evidence for the plaintiff went, it was clear .and distinct; and it would be for them to say if that important link in tho chain was shaken by the evidence for the defendant. If there was any doubt upon this point they must give the defendant the benefit of it, as the burden of proof rested on the plaintfl 7 . If i they thought the evidence was so cogent and pointed on the part of the plaintiff that the defendant's witnesses had not:shaken it, then it was merely a questioii' of damages which they would assess from the evidence they ! had before them." This action was hot the only one resulting from this fire. Notice of a .second action for -damages of upwards, of a-thou-sand pounds was subsequently served on Mr Hay, but since stayed in consequence of his melancholy death. The sad result of the negligence, carelessness, or thoughtlessness I manifested in kindling a fire to scare a few cattle, when everything was as dry as powder, ought to be a warning to alLo.ur settlers in bush districts to exercise every reasonable caution, and in order that it may be so we have taken advantage of the present favorable moment for bringing it to their notice.