Firefighters busy as blaze risk soars

MARYANNE TWENTYMAN AND ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 08:30 08/01/2013

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A relief fire crew have been brought in to patrol an area of Wetlands where a fire has been burning for almost two days, north of Te Kauwhata.

The crew from the Department of Conservation office in Thames will relieve other DOC staff who have worked around the clock at the 40 hectare site.

DOC Waikato area manager Mark Cook said the fire is now completely under control with just a ‘‘few hot spots’’ reported by a large pine tree in the middle of the Wetlands.

‘‘The tree is quite large and it is causing concern,’’ he said. ‘‘There is a lot of unburnt fuel around the base of the tree but if we can bring it down safely then that is what we will do - staff will be working on that today.’’

High winds overnight kept staff monitoring the area on high alert with concern more flare-ups could burn out of control.

However with the winds dying down early this morning, Mr Cook said the arean was now well under control.

Extremely dry and windy conditions fuelled the blaze which initially took hold of Fish & Game-owned land in Wattle Rd, Whangamarino, about 5.20pm on Sunday. 

At the time, fire communications shift manager Jaron Philips said the 50-hectare blaze was burning out of control along a railway line. 

And it's the railway line that has become a focus for fire investigators, according to Department of Conservation manager Matt Cook. "We had the railway grinding operation go through here," he said. "We haven't been able to confirm - but it is a potential source [of ignition] that will require a full investigation." 

Two fires yesterday - also along the railway at Huntly and Ngaruawahia - fuelled that suspicion. Mr Cook said helicopters with monsoon buckets, at a cost of about $15,000, were the most effective firefighting tool for the difficult terrain. 

DOC fire officers remained at the scene overnight on Sunday when flare-ups were reported, and called in the helicopters at first light yesterday morning to damp down hot spots. 

But high winds and hot temperatures yesterday afternoon caused more flare-ups. 

Mr Cook told the Waikato Times that only hours before Sunday's fire he had been commenting on how well the district had come through the holiday period without a major blaze. 

Around the region fire authorities are appealing for people to stop lighting open fires as the area bakes under hot temperatures and drying winds. 

Waikato fire safety officer Kevin Holmes said parts of the region had reached critical fire-risk conditions and that lessons should be learned from the devastating Australian fires. 

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"Some of our native vegetation is also quite flammable and people camping need to be very careful, particularly if they are using gas stoves or fires to cook," he said. 

"They need to make sure any fires are completely put out before people go to bed." 

He urged people on rural properties, near vegetation, to keep gutters free of dried leaves and to keep a 10-metre space between dwellings and vegetation, clear of anything flammable. 

Ad Feedback Waikato regional fire committee chairman Andy Baker said the Waikato District Council area would soon join neighbouring councils on total fire bans. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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