Fire cost rockets up to $4.6 million

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 12:52 27/05/2013
Bush fire
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ

COSTLY: February's fire on steep hillside beside Old Mountain Rd, Waitetuna was one of a number fought this summer.

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It was the driest and possibly the most costly summer on record for New Zealand's rural fire authorities with claims lodged for more than $4.6 million, nearly $200,000 of which stemmed from Waikato.

The average cost over the past five years has been $3.1m, National Rural Fire officer Murray Dudfield said.

The last surge was in 2005-2006 with $4.5m paid   out in grants.

However, the number of fires this year was within normal limits with around 4500 vegetation fires recorded across the country. The costs relate to 150 of those that incurred expenses of more than $1000. That figure  represents only about 65 per cent of the total because fires where costs are sought from the responsible party are not included.

The National Rural Fire Authority is funded through the Department of Conservation, fire service levies on property owners and, after every summer, individual authorities lodge claims with the NRFA to recover their costs.

The most expensive operations are typically forestry fires because they can drag on for  months  and individual incidents have been known to cost $1m.

But this season the most expensive claims ranged from $300,000 to $500,000 for fires on Great Barrier Island, at Pouto north of Auckland and what Mr Dudfield described as the ''rural-urban interface fires'' in Christchurch.

He said Waikato has historically had problems dousing peat land fires during dry summers, but this year was relatively quiet. Six claims have been lodged with rural fire manager Rob Goldring totalling $186,000.

That includes one DOC land fire estimated at about $60,000.

Waikato regional rural fire committee chairman Andy Baker said authorities have opted to recover their costs in five instances for expenses of up to $500.

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- Waikato

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