Crews going back to island fire

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 14/01/2014
Moutaki Island fire
SUPPLIED/George Empson
ISLAND ABLAZE: Fire crews struggled to contain the fire on Moutaki Island in Lake Tekapo.

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Rural fire crews will resume their battle this morning to finally extinguish the fire that devastated Motuariki Island, in Lake Tekapo.

The Department of Conservation is still investigating the cause of the fire that started on Saturday night.

South Canterbury principal rural fire officer Rob Hands said crews attempted to reach the island on Sunday and yesterday, but conditions were not suitable. They hoped to access the island this morning.

Fire crews spent Saturday night attempting to put out the blaze, until it became too dangerous to continue and darkness fell.

Mr Hands said signs had been placed along Lake Tekapo's boat launching spots warning people to stay away from the island.

"It's still smouldering pretty heavily, but it doesn't pose a risk to buildings or people as long as people stay away from it."

He said the fire had caused extensive damage to the island's 100-year-old pine trees.

"I would say a lot of the ones at the low level are significantly charred ... the fire was pretty fierce," Mr Hands said.

Senior Constable Brent Swanson, of Lake Tekapo, has spoken to three Christchurch men about the fire. Police decided not to press charges.

Fire on Lake Tekapo from BIG KID Film Productions on Vimeo.

DOC and South Canterbury Rural Fire were investigating the cause of the fire. DOC spokeswoman Lizzy Sutcliffe said cost recovery and replanting would be discussed after the investigation.

However, ranger Sally Jones was impressed by the community's response.

"Tekapo's volunteer brigade were on the island within 40 minutes of the fire breaking out - pumps going - via the local police officer's boat. The heroic response to this event clearly demonstrates the value of this special place to iwi, the local community and visitors to the area," she said.

"DOC recognises the desire from iwi and the public to restore Motuariki, and we will look into the possibilities around this."

The island is about 25 hectares and a popular picnic spot for boaties.

DOC's Central South Island regional fire manager, Tom Barr, estimated about 80 per cent of the island's vegetation was burnt and still smouldering.

"By all means look from the water but please don't go on to the island, it's extremely unsafe," he said. "There are some very old, tall pines that could fall at any time."

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- The Timaru Herald

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