'Spark from train' started fire

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 06:53 31/01/2014
Fire
Andre Archer
The blaze burnt through manuka trees
Marlborough Helicopters
Andre Archer
Marlborough Helicopters pilot dumps water on the hot spots

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A blaze that took 20 firefighters five hours to battle near Blenheim was sparked by a train, says a fire investigator.

The fire started about 5pm at Redwood Pass Rd on Wednesday.

Marlborough deputy rural fire officer and fire investigator John Foley said a spark most likely ignited a blaze when a train went past.

The fire could have been burning for half an hour before it was reported, Mr Foley said.

The blaze burnt through manuka trees along the railway line and spread over about half-a-hectare.

Awatere and Blenheim Rural Fire forces used five tankers to battle the flames. One crew tackled the fire from the top of a hill on Welds Pass while the other crews accessed the site through a farm track in the Awatere.

It was under control in less than two hours with the help of a Marlborough Helicopter using a monsoon bucket to dump water on the hot spots.

Firefighters remained at the scene for another three hours mopping up. They returned yesterday to ensure hot spots didn't reignite, Mr Foley said.

A former Nelson man who moved to Marlborough three months ago got a call from a neighbour telling him he had better get home because a fire was raging nearby.

Andre Archer, who lives in a mobile home with his wife at a friend's property at Redwood Pass Rd, rushed home to make sure his 13-year-old border collie dog Stitch was OK.

The fire had spread along the railway tracks, less than 300 metres from his home.

He watched for two hours as firefighters fought the flames, taking pictures because it wasn't something he saw every day, he said.

A lack of wind meant there hadn't been any danger of the fire spreading towards his home.

"It was so lucky it wasn't windy," he said. "In the three months we've been here, it pretty much blows every day. It's never been as still up there [as it was on Wednesday]."

The chance of it spreading had been slim as the grass paddock nearby had been grazed heavily.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said a train was the most likely cause of the fire although the exact source of ignition was not yet known.

KiwiRail worked closely with fire authorities to mitigate fire risk and train drivers and track staff maintained a high level of vigilance for fires, she said.

"Unfortunately, it may not be apparent that a fire is smouldering until the train is many kilometres down the track."

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KiwiRail would be charged for the cost of putting out the fire but the cost had not been calculated.

- The Marlborough Express

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