Tinder dry Te Mata Peak set on fire

By Patrick O'Sullivan

1 comment

A possibly "catastrophic" fire at Te Mata Peak was averted thanks to quick action from the public after deliberately thrown fireworks set grass ablaze.

Police arrested an 18-year-old man and charged him with reckless arson and referred a youth to child services after the two allegedly started a grass fire at 2.12am yesterday. Despite a district-wide fire ban they were seen throwing fireworks into tinder-dry grass.

Te Mata Park Trust Board chairman Bruno Chambers said it was potentially "a very serious situation".

"If you get a fire starting and the wind in the wrong direction it could be catastrophic for the park and the houses at the back of Havelock. It wouldn't take much for the fire to run down Peak Rd if it got out of control.

"I implore all users of the park to be extremely vigilant and make sure there are no cigarette butts out the window or any other source of fire."

Hastings District Council principal rural fire officer Trevor Mitchell attended the blaze at the top carpark area and said it took five fire trucks and crews an hour to extinguish the blaze.

He said with the ground damp from dew a fire at that time of the morning would normally be subdued.

"It clearly shows how dry the district is," he said.

"We were fortunate there wasn't any wind and that it hadn't gone into those gullies. The gullies are so steep on Te Mata Peak that we can't fight fire at night - it's too dangerous.

"The other thing that was in our favour was some very prompt help from members of the public who rang in the fire promptly - that really saved our bacon."

The peak is a popular spot for tourists.

"It's a black spot for sure - it doesn't look very nice.

"It was a very foolish thing to do - the total fire ban in place includes fireworks."

He said he would like to thank the members of the public who assisted on the night and he called on all citizens to prevent further fires.

"It is really dry out there. There is a fire ban in place and we want people to report any smoke promptly please."

Mr Chambers said Te Mata was a very important feature for both Maori and Pakeha.

"It would be good for that level of appreciation to be picked up by all members of the public. It is certainly much appreciated by 99 per cent of people but there is always one per cent that are intent on wrecking it for others."

He said closing the gates to the park might be an option once a planned visitor centre was built.

"We could stop people at that point whereas before we had to keep the road open for users of Peak House."

Mr Chambers said the fire risk was likely to increase further.

"We are heading into a potentially extremely dry summer. It is already much drier than it usually is this time of year and the fire risk is already extreme and could get worse."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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