Fire burns hole in bush pockets

By Annette Lambly

Dargaville police are investigating the cause of a fire on the Pouto Peninsula that burnt around 200 hectares of forest and is costing tens of thousands of dollars to fight, including $86,000 on helicopters alone.

Detective Sergeant Jonathan Tier said the police are keen to hear from anyone who may have seen vehicle or people movement in the area prior to or during the fire, which started around 8.30am on Tuesday near Kellys Bay, about 50km southwest of Dargaville.

"We would like to hear about any activity, not just that considered to be suspicious," said Mr Tier.

Three helicopters and 80 ground crew battled for two days to control the fire, which by yesterday had burnt through 200ha, - consisting of 50ha of pine trees in a privately owned plantation and another 150ha of native scrub and wetland in the Punahaere Creek reserve, managed by the Department of Conservation.

There is a ring of burnt bush around the fire and the firefighting team have stopped it spreading.

A skeleton crew had remained at the scene on Tuesday night, but more crews were called in to deal with the blaze early yesterday morning after it jumped a fire break.

There have been no injuries and no properties are under threat at this stage, but concerns still surround the western flank, which is covered in hundreds of hectares of pine plantations should the fire flare up or cross Pouto Rd. Nobody had to be evacuated during the blaze.

The firefighting team led by DoC includes personnel from DoC, the Far North, Whangarei and Kaipara District Councils, the Northern Rural Fire Authority, a number of Northland forestry companies and the NZ Fire Service.

Dargaville deputy chief fire officer Michael Ross, who had been among fire service crews from Dargaville, Te Kopuru and Paparoa at the scene on Tuesday, said a restricted fire season was already in force at the time of the fire.

He said there was a huge cost attached to fighting fires and anyone deemed responsible for a fire could be held liable for the costs.

- Northern Advocate

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