A major scrub fire in Matapihi shut a section of railway line for over an hour while firefighters fought to contain the blaze yesterday afternoon.
It is believed the fire started at about 12.30pm and quickly spread across several hundred metres of land that runs alongside a section of track that crosses Matapihi Rd. A thick wall of smoke from the blaze could be seen by traffic crossing the Harbour Bridge.
Firefighters from Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, Greerton and Te Puke stations were called upon to fight the fire which was made difficult due to dry windy conditions.
Residents living near the area said the section of land mostly contained rubbish and scrub discarded from kiwifruit pruning.
Charlotte Dickson, whose property backs directly on to the site, first heard about the fire when a neighbour called.
"He said: `Have you seen the fire out the back of the house?' I said: `What fire?' Then when I saw it I thought: `Holy smoke'."
She said her grandson immediately called the fire department but the fire spread quickly. She said she wasn't concerned for her safety but did worry the blaze might claim the lives of pigs she keeps in a pen at the back of her garden.
"It came really close to them but in the end they were all right," she said.
Senior station officer Grant Taylor from the Tauranga fire brigade said it was unclear how the blaze had started but said conditions were almost perfect for the fire to spread.
"The sun, the wind _ dry conditions. It worries me that fires like this are going to be a common event now," he said.
Mr Taylor said the fire service would be questioning residents near the site to see if they had any clues as to what _ or who _ had caused the scrub to go up in flames.
He said it was fortunate firefighters managed to cut off yesterday's blaze before it reached a section of nearby trees, otherwise the fire could have been worse.
Initially firefighters had difficulty getting water to sections of the fire and had to call in a tanker truck and run hoses across the railway tracks to fight the flames. Mr Taylor said the blaze served as a warning to the public as the summer season approached.
"I would encourage people to avoid lighting outdoor fires through the summer months," he said.