North's summer fire bill soars

SCRUB FIRE: This scrub fire at Omapare in December last year was quickly contained.
SCRUB FIRE: This scrub fire at Omapare in December last year was quickly contained.

Fighting fires in the Far North this summer has already cost more than $1 million.

Yet two to three months remain before conditions are likely to change and the fire risk is reduced, the Northern Rural Fire Authority warns.

Principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor says the 2011-12 fire season is shaping up to be another expensive season for the district. "As we complete each cost analysis, it is becoming clear that this could be yet another season we could have done without. The latest fire cost figures bring the total cost of fighting rural fires across Northland in the last five years to more than $7 million."

The most expensive fire this season was a scrub fire which spread into a pine plantation near Horeke, destroying about 345 hectares of forest.

Fire suppression costs for that fire totalled $856,000.

Fires at Ahipara and Matai Bay cost $80,000 and $114,000 respectively to extinguish.

The financial cost of the Karikari Peninsula fire, which took the lives of two firefighters, is still being assessed.

"Claims have already been lodged with the National Rural Fire Fighting Fund to recover the costs from the Horeke, Ahipara and Matai Bay fires, but the interim costs are being carried by the council."

The Rural Fire Authority has a policy of taking a hard line by seeking to recover full costs from those responsible for setting fires which raced out of control.

"While every effort is made to fully recover the financial impact, there will always be some costs which simply can't be claimed back. This means part of the cost will always rest either with taxpayers or to a lesser extent with local ratepayers."

Mr Taylor says the figures don't take into account losses in productivity or costs carried by employers of the largely volunteer firefighters.

"The message is pretty simple – light fires at your own peril, because one way or another there will be a price to pay."

Northern News