Fires in the hills above Maidstone Park, Upper Hutt, being treated as suspicious
The efforts to extinguish two fires burning in the Upper Hutt hills have been stood down for the night.
Rural fire services confirmed late on Sunday night that the fires were being treated as suspicious and would be investigated by police and fire on Monday.
Two helicopters and several ground crews had been stood down from the battle that has left one firefighter with minor burns.
You know Wellington isn't used to this heat, How many fires in how many days? Hills behind Upper Hutt now on fire! pic.twitter.com/9IV0xzLkmb— Brady Dyer (@BR4DY) February 14, 2016
The teams would rest up and return at daylight to get the fire under control. It was too dangerous to continue fighting it in the dark because of the terrain, deputy principal rural fire officer Rick Sloman.
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"If there is a flare up we will be back at it. It's too dangerous in the meantime because there's a lot of unburnt vegetation which means we can't completely see what is burning," he said.
"If the wind changed it could flare up catching firefighters unawares."
The fires were contained and would be monitored overnight. There was no danger to property at this stage, he said.
The Fire Service was alerted at about 3.30pm to the first blaze, which started in hot, dry conditions, close to the popular sports fields at Maidstone Park.
It was almost bought under control at about 6pm, but the second fire had flared up at 7.15pm and a second helicopter had been called in, the fire service said.
The second fire would have been deliberately started after the first one, Sloman said.
"It wasn't caused by spotting from the first fire and we believe that a person or persons unknown have deliberately initiated them."
Upper Hutt resident Andrew Holt said at 9pm that the two helicopters were taking turns in dousing the flames with one getting its monsoon bucket filled, while the other released water on the fire, which was burning extensively again.
"I can see about three different parts that are burning and the flames are about six-foot high," he said.
"I'm about a kilometre away and I can clearly see it and the two helicopters - they will be there all night at this rate."
He said the fire seemed to be still burning up the hill.
Deputy principal rural fire officer Rick Sloman said that they were hoping to contain the spread before it reached Seymour Grove.
"There have been more flames and a lot of smoke," he said.
"Ground crews were on the way to the area when it flared up and raced up the hill."
The main fire from earlier on Sunday afternoon was contained to its perimeter, but was not extinguished.
One fireman received minor burns to his back from an ember going down his top when he bent over to push through some scrub, Sloman said.
"He had an anti-flash hood on his helmet which flew up and left a bit of a gap.
"It's a very minor burn and he has been treated by ambulance and is now support crew. He won't be going back on the line today, but he is still helping out."
The wind was blowing the fire up the hill away from the park, where a crowd had gathered to watch until about 6pm when it appeared it had been bought under control.
Sloman said the conditions meant that the fire could spread easily, which is why a helicopter and about 19 appliances had been used at the height of the more than two-hectare blaze.
"Even in the moderate conditions, the fires are making a bit of a run in this weather, which is why we have called in some pretty heavy artillery to get it under-control."
The effort to extinguish the fire was also hampered by the terrain. The hill is steep, almost cliff-like, Sloman said.
"Difficulty of access was always going to be a problem.... we've had to put some firefighters in some dangerous positions."
Earlier on Sunday, before the incident was handed over to rural fire services, fire service assistant area commander Matthew Abel said the fire had spread rapidly, but had been knocked back by water dropped from a helicopter's monsoon bucket.
The crews would remain working on the fire for several hours, he said.
One woman said she saw a firefighter scaling a tree to help get the blaze under control.