Tail of storm fails to head off fire ban

By Lindy Laird

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NIGHT BLAZE: Firefighters and residents spent an anxious night on Sunday as a large scrub fire blazed in Pipiwai.PHOTO/GRAHAM WRIGHT
NIGHT BLAZE: Firefighters and residents spent an anxious night on Sunday as a large scrub fire blazed in Pipiwai.PHOTO/GRAHAM WRIGHT

The Whangarei/Kaipara fire district will have a fire ban slapped over it later this week even after the weakened tail of a tropical storm delivered its promised rain.

Even then, it is only a matter of time before the region returns to tinder dry, Whangarei-based Forest Protection Services and rural fire boss Kevin Ihaka predicts.

He had held little hope the region would get wet enough in the tail of ex-Tropical Cyclone June yesterday.

"We will be bringing in fire restrictions this week unless this rain is significant," he said after a weekend in which many vegetation fires threatened to run wild across the district.

The biggest fire - which got out of hand about 3.30pm on Sunday and burned through the night - turned 37ha of scrub and bush to ashes on a farm at Wright Rd, Pipiwai.

Landowners Alex and Graham Wright said the fire on their property started as a controlled burn, with the appropriate authorities notified it was going to happen.

Within an hour a north-westerly wind had fanned the fire and spread it fast over largely inaccessible terrain.

"It was amazing how fast it went," Mrs Wright said.

"Four fire trucks came pretty quickly but couldn't do much on that terrain."

Helicopters with monsoon buckets were brought in to help fight the blaze but had to be grounded when it got dark, even while hotspots still flared up.

The Wrights, neighbours and firefighters spent an anxious night monitoring the fire that had been visible from Kamo.

Several landowners had scheduled burn-offs in Northland last weekend, relying on the promised remnants of a tropical rain storm to help dowse any problems - and also because they expected fire restrictions to start any day.

Mr Ihaka said only a sustained downpour would change the ground conditions and he expected restrictions to be officially announced this week.

Anyone wanting to light a fire of any kind would need a permit, and permits would not be given lightly.

Meanwhile, Mr Ihaka and colleagues have been watching the situation in South Australia and Victoria. Northland firefighters have traditionally crossed the Tasman to help fight Australia's notorious bushfires.

"Our crews are always available at 48 hours' notice but we also have to weigh up what situation could develop at home and resources we need to have on hand here as well."

Mr Ihaka said anyone wanting to know more about fire restrictions and permits could get the information on the website havingafire.org.nz

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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