A total fire ban will come into force across the Far North from noon today as continued dry weather sends the fire risk soaring.
The Northern Rural Fire Authority's decision to declare a prohibited fire season means all outdoor fires will be banned until further notice, with gas barbecues the only exception. Special permits for hangi fires may be considered.
A prohibited fire season was already in force in the fire-prone Aupouri and Karikari peninsulas, but in the rest of the Far North fires had still been allowed as long as a permit was granted. The fire ban means no new permits will be issued.
Principal fire officer Myles Taylor says with no significant rain in weeks, he had no choice but to ban outdoor fires while the current hot and dry conditions lasted.
The authority was determined to avoid a repeat of last summer when out-of-control fires claimed two lives and cost more than $2.1 million to put out.
Department of Conservation ranger William Macrae and helicopter pilot John "Prickles" de Ridder died when their helicopter crashed into Karikari Bay during a search and rescue mission on the night of November 30, 2011, during a major suspicious fire.
Mr Taylor said firefighters had already been called out many times this season, including to a major scrub fire at Pouto and close calls at Ahipara and Kaikohe.
"We have been lucky so far and have been able to contain most of these before they have escalated into major events. The big fire at Pouto shows how quickly small fires can spread and the damage that can be caused before control is established."
The authority was also billing anyone who started a fire without a permit, and had invoiced 10 property owners for firefighting costs so far this season.
"We would rather they had simply held off for a few months or, at the very least, made sure they had a fire permit. Apart from being a very costly exercise for those responsible, it is frankly madness to be attempting to burn off at this time of the year."
Fire ban by region (info courtesy of National Rural Fire Authority):