Boaties deny involvement in Cecil Peak blaze

WATER DROP: A helicopter uses a monsoon bucket to douse hotspots left by the blaze. 
WATER DROP: A helicopter uses a monsoon bucket to douse hotspots left by the blaze. 

Two men who sped by boat across Lake Wakatipu from the scene of a big blaze denied any involvement when questioned by police.

The fire licked up the lower slopes of Cecil Peak from the lake's waterline on Sunday evening, billowing smoke clouds and flames that were visible from Queenstown.

Two Queenstown Lakes District Council and Department of Conservation fire crews, plus two helicopters, were dampening hotspots on the peak's lower slopes yesterday morning.

The council's general manager of operations, Ruth Stokes, said a dawn aerial inspection assessed the fire as "well under control".

No fire crews were sent to Cecil Peak on Sunday night because the risk of fighting fires in the dark outweighed the need to bring the fire under control, given its remote location and the terrain, Ms Stokes said.

Calm, humid conditions had minimised any spread of the blaze.

Senior Constable Chris Blackford said two men were seen "speeding" across Lake Wakatipu from Cecil Peak about 8.45pm in a small boat.

They were questioned by police when they landed at Queenstown Bay, but denied "any involvement" in the blaze.

Police inquiries were continuing.

Meanwhile, a council press release ruled out any cause of the blaze being linked to Cecil Peak landowners and gave notice that firefighting costs were being pursued.

"If those responsible can be identified they will be liable for the costs of fighting the fire," the release said.

DOC incident controller Mark Mawhinney said the area would continue to be monitored to ensure the fire did not flare up, as warm weather was forecast to continue for the next few days.

DOC and the council issued a reminder that a total fire ban is in place across the district, meaning gas and electric barbecues are the only outdoor fires permitted, except for those in approved permanent outdoor fireplaces.

The Southland Times