Celebrations start blazes that threaten homes

By Peter de Graaf

2 comments

The use of fireworks to celebrate the New Year is likely to come under fresh scrutiny after homes were threatened by fire in three locations across the Far North.

No homes were lost but it was a close call for Omapere residents in particular. The most dramatic incident was at Coopers Beach, where a major grass and scrub fire swept through a hillside reserve next to State Highway 10 about 9.50pm.

Firefighters had difficulty reaching the blaze in Taumarumaru Reserve and the high winds made it too dangerous for helicopters, so they focused on protecting property instead.

Volunteers were called out from Mangonui, Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Kaeo brigades as well as the Taupo Bay, Karikari and Rangiputa rural fire parties.

A flare was thought to have started the blaze. A Coopers Beach resident reported seeing a flare fired shortly before the fire started.

Rural firefighters were still at the scene late yesterday.

A short time later, at about 10.15pm, three houses were threatened by fire on Waihuka Rd, next to Opononi Area School in Omapere. The flames came to within 6m of one home, Omapere fire chief June Ross said.

That blaze was also started by fireworks with the wind pushing it rapidly uphill through grass and toetoe before it turned and advanced on the house.

It was lucky that three firefighters were at the station when the alarm sounded, she said.

When the crew arrived, residents were trying to fight the fire with garden hoses and had their pets in their vehicles ready to evacuate. Earlier in the day, about 3.40pm, another fire covering an area of about 50m by 20m threatened a modest bach near Waimamaku Beach.

The area was not accessible by road so locals got to work with a bucket chain and firefighters with portable pumps until a helicopter arrived with a monsoon bucket.

Fire crews from Omapere, Kaikohe and the Wekaweka Rural Fire Party attended.

About 9.30pm, fireworks ignited trees next to a house at Te Haumi Drive near Paihia. The blaze was put out by the Paihia Fire Brigade.

Three more fires started about 11.55pm - all thought to be fireworks related - at Whangaruru North Rd, Foreshore Rd in Ahipara and Braemar Ave in Coopers Beach.

A fire that threatened houses and a pine forest beside SH12 east of Kaikohe last month was thought to have been started by a flare. A Mangamuka man has been charged with arson.

All of Northland is currently subject to fire restrictions, which in theory also prohibit fireworks apart from organised public displays.

- Northern Advocate

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