Man critical after fire

By Peter de Graaf, Mike Barrington


The man who was airlifted to hospital when he collapsed while trying to fight an out-of-control fire in the Far North is now in a critical condition.

The blaze started as a burn-off at Waimahana Bay, on the coast north of Taupo Bay, but spread into dry grass about 4pm on Tuesday and "away she went", Fire Service volunteer support officer Colin Kitchen said.

The man, aged in his 50s, is understood to have been involved in the burn-off and, together with others living at the bay, had been frantically working to put the fire out when he was overcome by smoke and minor burns.

He was in a critical condition when treated at the site by a Doubtless Bay St John ambulance crew and by an intensive care paramedic on the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter called in to take him to Whangarei Hospital.

Hospital staff said the man was still seriously ill in the intensive care unit yesterday afternoon.

About two hectares of grass was burnt and three baches were threatened in the blaze.

Two appliances from the Mangonui Volunteer Fire Brigade and one from the Taupo Bay Rural Fire Party brought the fire under control by about 6pm.

Mangonui chief fire officer Peter Sainsbury said his brigade first responded to a callout to a grass fire at the isolated bay, then got a second call to the same address to deal with a man having seizures believed to have been caused by smoke inhalation.

The Doubtless Bay St John ambulance had been on the scene when firefighters arrived, he said.

Northland St John official Mark Going said the intensive care paramedic had stabilised the critically ill man before the rescue helicopter flight and ventilated him while in the air.

The incident demonstrated the value of the helicopter's quick response to emergencies in isolated areas and of having a highly trained paramedic on board, he said.

Mr Kitchen said the fire showed vegetation in the Far North was still dry, despite recent rain and the easing of fire restrictions.

The grass at Waimahana appeared green but underneath it was tinder-dry.

The vegetation is still dry in the Kaipara district too.

At 6.20am on Tuesday Te Kopuru firefighters were called to a farmer's burn-off on Pouto Rd and chief fire officer Kevin Morgan said the farmer called them back at 11.20am when wind had come up and blown the fire across a drain into grass where there was a risk of it getting out of hand.

"We put it out for him. It was no big deal," Mr Morgan said.

The Dargaville Volunteer Fire Brigade helped with the Pouto Rd burn-off and also put out a small vegetation fire in the town about 12.22pm on Tuesday.

Dargaville chief fire officer Mitch King said a contractor had been burning rubbish in Beach Rd and firefighters had extinguished the fire because of a risk of it igniting the Manchurian wild rice pest plant growing in profusion alongside the Northern Wairoa River.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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