Vehicle blamed for Port Waikato dune inferno

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2013

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Firefighters battled a large vegetation fire in "hellishly hot" conditions at Port Waikato yesterday.

The fire, which started in the dunes near Maraetai Bay - just south of the rivermouth - burned through an estimated 40 to 50 hectares of scrub and toi toi before it was brought under control.

The fire service received its first call at 12.44pm and said they had it under control by about 5pm.

North communications shift manager Tania Mathews said eight units, including three tankers and one chopper fitted with a monsoon bucket were used.

"There was quite a bit of wind and it took them about four hours to bring it under control," she said.

There were also several firefighters who were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion, she said.

Andy Baker, principal rural fire officer for Waikato, said it appeared the cause of the fire was a vehicle that had become stuck in the dune area, and ignited the surrounding vegetation.

"It's used regularly to get out to go fishing or hoon around, and it appears this vehicle has come off the side of a track, and it started."

Mr Baker said the area was frequently used by people on motorbikes, quad bikes and four-wheel drives, despite warnings not too.

"They've got to appreciate the vegetation is extremely dry. People really have to think."

Mark Edwards, patrol captain at Trust Waikato Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service, said the northeasterly winds slowly pushed the fire towards the small community, with flames coming within 700 metres of the nearest property.

"If it hadn't have been put out, it definitely would have made its way through to the community."

Local woman Jacqui Church said the residents of Port Waikato took food down, and chipped in with their spades and tractors. Units from stations in Papakura and Pukekohe had travelled down, she said.

Mr Baker said the dry, hot weather was a massive contributor to the fire.

"Any summer you would have had a big fire there, but obviously it has ignited easier and it has travelled faster because of the conditions."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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