Key Points:

Police are calling for those who witnessed the blaze which ravaged Mauao to come forward while the fire service starts its investigation into the cause of Wednesday night's fire. Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner last night asked anybody who was on Mauao at the time the fire started and anyone else who may hold information about the fire to contact the Tauranga Police. Police were aware there were a number of people on Mauao that evening including several mountain bikers, he said. The fire service was expected to begin an investigation into the cause of fire at first light this morning. Emergency services were called to the base of Mauao just before midnight on Wednesday. Locals watched on as fire crews rescued three people from the top of the mountain and more than 40 firefighters and six fire engines started to battle the blaze - the fire lapping up the eastern side of the popular Bay of Plenty hiking spot. Read more: Fire crews continue to battle 'dangerous' Mt Maunganui blaze More than 70,000 litres of water was used to extinguish the 800sq m fire. At first light yesterday morning two helicopters, carrying 600 litres to 700 litres of water in monsoon buckets, alternatively dumped water on the fire every 60 to 90 seconds. The fire service estimated 120 drops were made. The monsoon buckets were filled near the cement stairs of Mauao by a pipeline which supplied water to three hydrants on the slopes of the mountain - implemented in 2003 in case of such an event.

"It probably looked more impressive than what it was. But it carried on and got quite big."
Pumicelands Rural Fire Authority Moana zone incident controller Alan Pearce
Ryan Biggar said he was sitting with mates on Salisbury wharf when he saw a green flare light up the night sky and head towards the side of the mountain about midnight. "We just saw it go up and it just sailed down in an arc direction. The fire started where the flare landed a couple of minutes after we saw it." Mr Biggar said the fire did not take long to become an enormous blaze that spread quickly. He could not tell if the flare had been set off from land or water. Jody McGinity, who was camping at Papamoa, said the fire could be seen from the campground, about 16km away from Mt Maunganui. "We were just sitting having a drink and then we wondered what the light was," she said. They realised it was a blaze, and called the fire service. "It's spread about half way down the right hand side [of Mauao]," Ms McGinity said. Pumicelands Rural Fire Authority Moana zone incident controller Alan Pearce said when he first arrived at the scene after midnight the fire was "certainly noticeable". He said a strong easterly wind was blowing embers up and over the top of the mountain from where the fire had started on the eastern side but the track at the top stopped it spreading further. "It probably looked more impressive than what it was. But it carried on and got quite big." By lunch time yesterday helicopters and fire crews were stood down with one crew left on standby in case the blaze sparked up once again. Pumicelands Rural Fire Authority deputy rural fire officer Chris Clark said they would continue monitoring the fire site yesterday. "There are some hot spots. There are some logs there which are just smouldering and creating smoke but there's not a lot of fuel around them." Mr Clark said the tracks of Mauao would still be closed today. He said because the fire had started on steep slopes and because they needed to use monsoon buckets to help extinguish the blaze, rocks and boulders may have become loose in the process. A fire crew would be put on the mountain to "mop up" any remaining hotspots and a crew of geotectonical experts would asses the stability of the slopes of Mauao. At midday today a review would assess when the tracks would be re-opened, he said.