It took Waihi Beach fire fighters more than three hours to extinguish a flaming pohutukawa tree in Orakawa Bay yesterday morning.

Chief fire officer Ian Smith said a fire was deliberately started at the base about 8.30am, which caught on to the bark and spread up the tree.

It covered an area about 12metres square of Department of Conservation land.

Two portable pumps and the coastguard's water pump were all used to help and DOC workers assisted the brigade.

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Mr Smith said there was evidence of a number of other fires nearby, suggesting the danger, even in winter, was not getting through to people.

"It's an ongoing problem," he said, "people go over there to camp and light a fire.

"The message isn't getting through."