Kingston Flyer sparks damage, angers farmer

BURNT-OUT: Kingston Station owner Tim Taylor in front of the land razed by fire on Sunday.
BURNT-OUT: Kingston Station owner Tim Taylor in front of the land razed by fire on Sunday.

A Kingston farmer says a scrub fire sparked by the Kingston Flyer steam train will cost him $14,000 in revenue this year.

The tracks for the historical train run through the property of Kingston Station owner Tim Taylor and he is angry six hectares were razed in the second of two fires that erupted, in the sweltering heat, beside the tracks on Sunday.

"That was scrub land I'd developed ready for grazing Southland dairy cows for 10 weeks this winter," he said. "I'd had it sprayed by helicopter. That'll cost me $14,000 in revenue."

It is believed a smaller fire further south, put out by Kingston Flyer staff, had reignited, sparking the bigger fire.

Mr Taylor, a Kingston volunteer firefighter, said it was unfair that about 20 volunteers - with three fire engines and a helicopter - spent most of the "best day of the year" battling the fire.

He said the train's owners needed to be more proactive about managing the fire risk, especially during high-risk summer months.

"I definitely don't want to see the train stop running, but anyone can tell it's dry. They should be monitoring the dryness."

Mr Taylor was not insured for his loss and said he was investigating whether he could recover his losses. "Last summer I let it slide. I lost a few thousand dollars' worth of grazing, but I can't afford to do that with this one."

Kingston Flyer managing director David Bryce temporarily suspended train runs yesterday because of the "tinder dry conditions" and extreme fire risk.

A specially made steel gauze had been designed to encase the chimney outlet to contain sparks. It was fitted after a designated "fire spotter" on the back of the train saw Sunday's smaller fire.

Mr Bryce had made a huge investment in repairs and restoration, including rebuilding the old ash pan, from which sparks were thought to have escaped last summer. "We thought we had everything in place for our fire-risk management," he said.

Department of Conservation rural fire officer Jamie Cowan said the boundaries were checked yesterday morning and a Queenstown Lakes District Council crew was on site to dampen down any hot spots.

The Southland Times