Hutt fire 'deliberately lit'

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 09:31 03/12/2013
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ

Flames had claimed a large patch of bush by late last night and come dangerously close to homes in the Lower Hutt suburb of Waterloo.

Hutt Valley fire
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ Zoom
Steve Kerr, 16, among burnt out scrub behind his parents' Waterloo home.

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Two teenagers have spoken with police in connection with a deliberately lit scrub fire in Lower Hutt.

The flames had claimed a large patch of bush by late last night and come dangerously close to homes in the suburb of Waterloo.

The fire is out but a rural fire officer will be going up in a helicopter to check out the scene in daylight hours today.

No homes were evacuated but some of those living nearby had packed their bags ready to go.

Flames and smoke from the fire in the hills between Lower Hutt and Wainuiomata were big enough to be seen across the Hutt Valley, and from some parts of Wellington.

Two teenage boys were handed over to police by members of the public and Acting Sergeant Morgan Gray said they had been spoken to but had not been charged.

It was too soon to say whether charges would eventually be laid.

He did not believe police were looking for anyone else in relation to the fire. The case was being dealt with by CIB.

Assistant area commander for the Hutt and Wairarapa Fire Service Esitone Pauga said the blaze was reported at 7:45pm. Firefighters left the scene about 1am today.

Firefighters were "extremely lucky" that conditions were still, he said.

The flames got to within 50 metres of a house but no-one was required to evacuate.

"It was pretty close. The saving factor was that the breeze was blowing the fire away from the houses.

"There were come concerned residents, worried that the fire would come down, but we reassured them."

One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, but was not in a serious condition, he said.

Steve Kerr, 16, was at the local driving range when a friend called to say there was a fire on the hill immediately behind his house.

Steve called his father, Ron Kerr, at home. He called 111 and by the time he got off the phone fire trucks were already coming.

Within a short time up to 50 fire fighters were battling the blaze.

They had to battle thick gorse to get to the fire, which started in a pine near their home and tore up the ridge above.

Their home was thought to be the closest to the fire, coming within 100 metres of it.

Fire fighters sprayed the back of their house with foam in case it got closer and had the family on standby to evacuate.

Mr Kerr said fire fighters did a "fantastic" job containing the blaze.

Steve said the whole experience was "quite exciting but pretty scary at the same time".

About five or so six years ago there was a large fire on a neighbouring ridge.

Cleary St resident Chris Newlove said he looked out his window to find flames a few hundred metres from his home.

Watching the fire conjured up images of devastating Australian bush fires, he said.

"I’ve never seen anything like it ... thankfully it’s not a windy night otherwise it would’ve gone ‘whoosh’ pretty quickly."

He was disappointed to hear that it could have been deliberately lit.

"If that's true then that's dumb. Obviously there's houses up there that are affected. It would be a shame if someone's house was lost because of those idiots."

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Newlove and his family packed suitcases as soon as they saw the fire, but were relieved to find they did not need to evacuate.

Witnesses Shaun Dorresteyn and Alice Brennan said the fire was "quite incredible" to look at.

"I've never seen anything like this before," Ms Brennan said.

"It's quite scary with it being so close to all these homes."

Clinton O’Leary and Peter Cameron described the blaze as "impressive."

"It's a decent fire. Very, very big," Mr Cameron said.

The houses closest to the fire were less than ten years old, which would make for some nervous owners, he said.

- The Dominion Post

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