Firefighters tested by fire, shooters

Smoke from the Matakana fire can be seen from far away.
Smoke from the Matakana fire can be seen from far away.

Anxious residents in Matakana are preparing for evacuation as a fire sweeps through north Auckland forests.

Ten appliances were tackling the blaze in rural Matakana, but have had to retreat to Wright Rd because the fire moved towards them.

So far 20 hectares have been destroyed and a command unit from central Auckland has recently arrived on site to coordinate the fire service’s response.

Several residents nearby – and some from as far away as Omaha, 10 kilometres east – have contacted emergency services enquiring whether they should evacuate, but they have been told to stay put because the fire is not an “imminent threat”.

They may be forced to move if the smoke build up becomes too intense, according to the Fire Service.

Skeet shooters are thought to have caused the fire and they made conditions more hazardous by shooting into the inferno as firefighters tried to tackle it.

They were later picked up by fire crews.

The fire was originally too difficult for vehicles to get to, so a chopper with monsoon bucket was employed and is still in operation with two others called in.

However, one was grounded when a pilot got ash in his eyes.

Fire Service spokesman Jaron Phillips said no properties were at threat yet, but the situation would be closely monitored.

Wright Rd resident Ian Trotter had a perfect view of the blaze from beside his cow shed and said three helicopters were working to halt its progress.

“They don’t look to be making much progress though,” he said.

Trotter described the terrain as “steep, rugged forestry land” and said ground crews had no chance of getting to it.

There was a “continuous stream” of appliances carting water up and down the road to fill the monsoon buckets, he said.

Though the fire was some distance from his property he reckoned lifestyle-block owners at the other end of the road would be starting to bite their nails with the north-easterly breeze and dry conditions.

Electronic signs on State Highway one near Dome Valley are warning drivers to beware of smoke.

Waiwhiu Rd and Wright Rd have been closed by police