Hopes are high for the return of a historic steam locomotive for February's big Tremains Art Deco Weekend.

A group of Central Hawke's Bay specialist firefighters have offered a "plan B" to event organisers which could result in the loco making an appearance - fire ban or no fire ban.

The Paekakariki-based Steam Incorporated locomotive, which had become a traditional fixture for the weekend, got the red light for this year's event as drought conditions created a total fire ban.

There was a risk the engine could create sparks through its journeys across the dry region leading to grass fires.


A diesel locomotive was instead used for the Deco weekend passenger outings.

"We can help mitigate that risk," Simon Osborne, chief firefighter with the CHB-based Fire and Rescue NZ service, said yesterday after offering a proposal to Art Deco Trust events manager Peter Mooney.

Mr Osborne said the plan revolved around the use of what he called a "smoke chaser" - a hydraulic track-mounted vehicle which was designed to follow trains at times of risk and deal with any small fires which could result from sparks being thrown up.

On that note, he said the main cause of sparks from any locomotive, including steamers, was from the steel wheels on steel tracks - not from the engines.

He said the train-following machines, which travelled several hundred metres behind, were equipped with water tanks and equipment for beating out fires.

KiwiRail has the machines and Mr Osborne said he and his nine-strong volunteer crew had the experience to use them.

"They will provide them and we will man them - it is no different to chasing a fire in the bush."

He said as well as the "smoke chaser" the locomotives would be fitted with spark arresters.

The volunteers with the service had a devotion to public duty, Mr Osborne said, and had in the past been involved in everything from overseeing fireworks display to assisting at motorsport events.

"We have helped the Art Deco Trust in the past with fireworks events and thought here was something else we could do for the community.

"It would be good to see the steam train return - and I'm a steam enthusiast myself."

Mr Mooney was delighted with the approach and had since been in contact with KiwiRail and Steam Incorporated.

"It's a really nice offer - real good community spirit," he said.

He said there were three levels of fire danger and while level two could allow a steam train across the region the more extreme level three effectively ruled it out.

"But their presence on this machine could make that difference between level two and three."

He said as it was this year, the final decision would come down to the chief rural fire officer who would make the call about 10 days out as it all came down to the conditions at that time.

"But things like this can be done - we'll have to see at the time."

Mr Osborne said he had been in fire and rescue services for 34 years, and had worked with the bushfire-fighting units in New South Wales before moving to New Zealand in 1992.