Community inspects the devastation after four homes razed by out-of-control Coromandel scrub fire


Wind-fuelled scrub fire near Whitianga "spectacular" but "scary".

Houses razed to the ground, this is the devastation left behind by a wind-fuelled scrub fire on the Coromandel Peninsula.

A long-standing self-sufficient community was destroyed by the flames near Whitianga on Tuesday night.

Around 25 residents of the Wilderland community were forced to flee their homes as a fire, that burned through a total of 10 hectares, four houses and several other structures and sheds, tore through.

All that remains of a home on the tip of the peninsula at Whitianga.

All that remains of a home on the tip of the peninsula at Whitianga.

Amy Hodge opened up her home to her neighbours as they fled the blaze. She spent Wednesday morning cooking up vegetarian meals to deliver to the evacuated residents of Wilderlands that were now stationed at a camp next to Coroglen. 

* She saved the flute, the sax and the photos, but Helen Lee could only leave her 'gorgeous wee home' to the flames
Going bush in Wilderland
Four houses destroyed, more threatened by out-of-control scrub fire near Whitianga

In her garage, a table lined with fruit and buns was laid out for any residents who needed fuel. She said about 25 people had to leave the community, which swells over the summer months with visitors. 


With four homes burned down and the rest evacuated, residents face the prospect the fire could flare again.

"It's very sad, it's hard for the families who have lived here - I'm a newbie and I have been here 22 years."

Helen Lee and neighbour Jani Dennis spent the night at Hodge's home. Lee watched the flames bearing down on her plot, overlooking Whitianga. 

"It looked like it was out of control, which it was and it had so many fronts."

Caitlyn Hodge, Amy Hodge, Fenella Skelton and Louana Skelton are helping their neighbours.

Caitlyn Hodge, Amy Hodge, Fenella Skelton and Louana Skelton are helping their neighbours.

Lee moved into the home in 1971 with her former husband and children, then aged six and eight. Her husband now lives next door to the "gorgeous wee home" with his new wife.

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"We grow our own food and play our own music - I really love our way of life, it's going to be hard."


Comer Road resident Helen Lee lost her home in the bush fire near Whitianga.

Comer Road resident Helen Lee lost her home in the bush fire near Whitianga.

Around the back, Hodge's lawn was abuzz with helicopters landing to refill their monsoon buckets loaded with foam that was dumped on the hectares of fire ravaged scrub. 

Fire tankers were filled and unloaded into a pool at a property up the road to be dispersed by ground crews. 

Principal rural fire officer Paul Shaw of Thames Valley Fire had earlier feared other houses were still at risk as a southwesterly fuelled flames overnight but a "great job" by the three helicopters dumping water had kept them safe. 

With four homes burned down and the rest evacuated, they face the long process of repairing their fire-town community.

With four homes burned down and the rest evacuated, they face the long process of repairing their fire-town community.

"We had to pull the helicopters and the ground crews out overnight, it was too dangerous. Sadly the wind didn't give up and there's plenty of volatile fuels in here."

Shaw was driving through the charred bushland on Wednesday morning where he could see the devastation to the Wilderland community.

"The fire has ripped right through here and very badly devastated it.

Principal rural fire officer Paul Shaw of Thames Valley Fire in front of the devastation.

Principal rural fire officer Paul Shaw of Thames Valley Fire in front of the devastation.

"The odd building is still standing but there's not much of it left - it is very sad for the community that lives in here.

"Many of the Wilderland community had self evacuated overnight but others had to be told to leave their homes.All the families were evacuated overnight and are staying with family and friends.

"People see their homes in danger and the last thing they want to do is walk away and leave their homes to burn but sadly we have to get everyone out."

Members of the community were making treks on a tractor to gather what was left of their belongings.

Six homes were totally destroyed.

Six homes were totally destroyed.

Crates of items, surfboards and equipment were loaded on and driven out from the gravel road.

One of the trust members said the community needed to regroup before they could speak about the incident.

A German resident, who only wanted to be known as Hemming, was working for board at the trust when the fire broke out.

Fire crews were making sure no hot spots re-ignited.

Fire crews were making sure no hot spots re-ignited.

He arrived in New Zealand three weeks ago and had been staying at the plantation for the last week.

"I just grabbed a couple of things, like money and passport, now everything is burnt to the ground.

"We were told to evacuate - the guy that had been staying there the longest just gathered all the names together and contacts.

Pumping water to fight the fire.
Mark Taylor

Pumping water to fight the fire.

"It was all about getting out safely and getting things out safely."

An Irishman backpacking at the community said the damage was devastating.

"There's still fire each side and the wind blowing back up each side. A few of the houses are gone and a few of the orchards."

Nick Kelly Department of Conservation Whitianga at the scene.

Nick Kelly Department of Conservation Whitianga at the scene.

He said part of the main building and office was still standing.

Shaw also came across a home sitting untouched among the blackened bush.

"I'm sitting right beside a house, right in the middle of it untouched, the lawn and all the gardens are looking lovely and five metres over the edge is a lot of smoke rising from smouldering material - this house is one of the lucky ones."

Flames burned through 10 hectares and four houses.
Mark Taylor

Flames burned through 10 hectares and four houses.

He said helicopters and ground crews were securing the perimeter of the fire to ensure no other homes were in danger.

Fire crews, including the rural brigade and three helicopters, had been called to Comers Rd, Kaimarama, between Whitianga and Coroglen, at 5.18pm on Tuesday.


Christopher Fletcher.

Reader footage of the bush fire in Whitianga

A mayoral fund has been set up for anyone wanting to donate money to help those who have lost everything in the bush fire.

The account number is through ANZ and is currently being set up on the ANZ Direct Online site, the Thames Coromandel District Council said in a statement.

The account number is 01-0455-0090620-01.

Homes were evacuated, and road access to some houses was cut off.
Alan Duff

Homes were evacuated, and road access to some houses was cut off.

Support for people who have lost their homes is being coordinated by Civil Defence and welfare groups.

"We are in the process of contacting Comers Rd and Wilderland Community residents to determine the level of assistance is required," Thames-Valley Civil Defence area controller, Garry Towler said.

"We would like to invite all the affected people we haven't spoken to yet, to please get in touch with us and tell us what they need and how they can be helped."

Flames were visible from 10km away as the devastating scrub fire threatened more homes in the Coromandel.
Alan Duff

Flames were visible from 10km away as the devastating scrub fire threatened more homes in the Coromandel.

A closed meeting is being organised for the affected residents this afternoon. A statement will be made after the meeting.

Any members of the community wanting to help are asked to make a donation via the Mayoral fund above or via the Give a Little page that has been set up rather than donate goods at this stage.

Firefighters involved in the efforts to contain the fire have requested that no more food be dropped off as they have plenty for the time being, and are very grateful for all the support and encouragement given by the community.


A scrub fire in Whitianga has claimed four homes overnight as the fire service says the blaze is yet to be contained.

Fire crews including the rural fire brigade and two helicopters carrying monsoon buckets have fought the blaze near ...
Raewyn Gregory/Supplied

Fire crews including the rural fire brigade and two helicopters carrying monsoon buckets have fought the blaze near Whitianga.

 - Stuff

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