Plea for firestarter to stop

By Kristin Edge

Firefighters dampen down last week's blaze at Glinks Gully. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Firefighters dampen down last week's blaze at Glinks Gully. Photo / Michael Cunningham

A senior police detective investigating a string of suspicious fires in Kaipara has made a plea to the arsonist to come forward before someone is seriously injured or killed.

The most recent fire this week at Glinks Gully, 20km south of Dargaville, forced the evacuation of three baches and campers from a holiday park.

The 20-hectare blaze in scrub was finally contained using two helicopters and 19 firefighters with seven appliances, without loss of property or life.

The police call for the culprits to come forward has been backed by Whangarei/Kaipara principal rural fire officer Kevin Ihaka.

Dargaville police Detective Jonathan Tier said the deadly ramifications of the fires were not being considered and sooner or later there would be tragedy.

"I really think that the person or person lighting these fires has not thought (about) the risk to loss of life when they do this," Mr Tier said.

"There will be someone out there that may know who is doing this.

"The person lighting the fires may even have told you about it in confidence.

"I would like to hear from these people so we can try and prevent any further fires, before someone is seriously hurt or worse." Mr Tier said he did not know what the person involved gained by lighting the fires and said their actions were placing their family members, relatives or friends in danger.

"I think about it often and dread the time I may get a call in the middle of the night to say there has been a serious injury of fatality in connection with one of these fires. It is not a pleasant task for us, police, to inform family of the death of a family member," Mr Tier said.

The fires jeopardised the multimillion-dollar forestry industry in the area and put the livelihood of local workers at risk.

The risk to firefighters responding to the call for help was high.

"The volunteers will be faced with dangers when they arrive at the fire, be that from the fire itself or from injury from the terrain."

The dangers to helicopter crews called to fight fires was tragically illustrated in 2011 when Kerikeri pilot John de Ridder and Department of Conservation ranger William McRae, of Awanui, were called to a suspiciously light scrub fire near Maitai Bay. On a reconnaissance flight their helicopter crashed into the sea off Karikari Peninsula.

Every time firefighters fought a blaze they faced danger, experienced rural firefighter Kevin Ihaka said.

"There is an inherent risk with fire but it's meaningless to be exposed to the risk knowing these fires have been deliberately light," Mr Ihaka said.

"One of the most dangerous times is the initial attack phase ... it's always a worry for me. When people are protecting their community they feel compelled to do their best."

He urged people to come forward with information. Signs had been posted in the Poutu Peninsula for people to call the 0800 Crimestoppers line anonymously if they did not want to contact Dargaville police directly.

"This is an issue that will be solved by the community by being vigilant and keeping an eye on who is in the area."

- Northern Advocate

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