Driver's quick action stops forest blaze spreading

Last updated 05:00 09/01/2014

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A truck driver delivering drinking water used his cargo to fight a Wairarapa forest fire.

"He saw the fire, stopped, set his pump up, got his hose out and started fighting the fire by himself - fantastic dedication," said Wairarapa rural fire chief Phill Wishnowsky, who arrived at the scene shortly afterwards.

The fire yesterday was caused by power lines being blown on to highly flammable pine branches and then arcing. More fires were likely during summer unless power companies and plantation owners stepped up, Mr Wishnowsky said.

Four fire trucks and two tankers were needed to quell the blaze, which was reported about 12.45pm and affected almost half a hectare of a pine plantation in the Blairlogie district east of Masterton.

If the tanker driver had not helped fire crews quickly control the fire, it could have easily spread to neighbouring plantations in the hot, windy conditions, Mr Wishnowsky said.

A helicopter was called in but was not needed. A spokesman for Masterton's McAuley's Transport said the driver who fought the blaze, identified only as "Nathan", would be getting a pat on the back.

"He was first there and he took action . . . just the luck of the draw, you don't want it to blast into a big fire or anything stupid."

McAuley's had put tankers on standby in the past for fires but it was the first time a driver had actually fought a fire, he said.

Mr Wishnowsky called legislation governing the trimming of trees close to lines "vague", and said electricity provider Powerco and Wairarapa plantation owners needed to take more responsibility for preventing similar fires.

"The forest owner can say it wouldn't be a problem if the lines weren't there, and Powerco can say it wouldn't be a problem if the trees weren't there . . . so rural ratepayers pay the bill, which is wrong."

Neighbouring plantation owner Murray Ford said the management of power lines through plantations was "haphazard".

"There should be a regular patrolling system, every branch close to a line dealt with, instead of waiting for a bloody fire to come through." He checked his plantation annually and got dangerous branches trimmed but wanted more co-operation from Powerco.

Powerco spokesman Phil Marsh said the company was working with land and tree owners to keep their trees away from lines.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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