Firefighters busy as blaze risk soars

Firefighters last night battled to control a scrub fire that took hold of bush just north of Lake Taupo, threatening a house.

It came as parts of the Waikato reached critical fire-risk conditions yesterday and our neighbours across the Tasman, in Australia, battled huge blazes in several states amid soaring temperatures.

The blaze on Whangamata Rd, Marotiri - north of Kinloch - threatened to engulf a house.

Fire service communications shift manager Steve Smith said firefighters were called to the rural blazes about 8pm.

It was not known if the fires were linked or suspicious but strong winds may have helped spread the fire.

The fires were put down before midnight and the rural fire service has taken over the investigation.

Meanwhile, in the north Waikato firefighters spent a night camped out in a wetland after a massive scrub fire, suspected to have been ignited by workers carrying out grinding on railway tracks, took hold of 40 hectares of bush.

Extremely dry and windy conditions fuelled the blaze which initially took hold of Fish & Game-owned land in Wattle Rd, Whangamarino, about 5.20pm on Sunday.

At the time, fire communications shift manager Jaron Philips said the 50-hectare blaze was burning out of control along a railway line.

And it's the railway line that has become a focus for fire investigators, according to Department of Conservation manager Matt Cook. "We had the railway grinding operation go through here," he said. "We haven't been able to confirm - but it is a potential source [of ignition] that will require a full investigation."

Two fires yesterday - also along the railway at Huntly and Ngaruawahia - fuelled that suspicion.

Mr Cook said helicopters with monsoon buckets, at a cost of about $15,000, were the most effective firefighting tool for the difficult terrain.

DOC fire officers remained at the scene overnight on Sunday when flare-ups were reported, and called in the helicopters at first light yesterday morning to damp down hot spots.

But high winds and hot temperatures yesterday afternoon caused more flare-ups.

Mr Cook told the Waikato Times that only hours before Sunday's fire he had been commenting on how well the district had come through the holiday period without a major blaze.

Around the region fire authorities are appealing for people to stop lighting open fires as the area bakes under hot temperatures and drying winds.

Waikato fire safety officer Kevin Holmes said parts of the region had reached critical fire-risk conditions and that lessons should be learned from the devastating Australian fires.

"Some of our native vegetation is also quite flammable and people camping need to be very careful, particularly if they are using gas stoves or fires to cook," he said.

"They need to make sure any fires are completely put out before people go to bed."

He urged people on rural properties, near vegetation, to keep gutters free of dried leaves and to keep a 10-metre space between dwellings and vegetation, clear of anything flammable.

Waikato regional fire committee chairman Andy Baker said the Waikato District Council area would soon join neighbouring councils on total fire bans.

Waikato Times