Reserve fire was an illegal blaze

By Peter de Graaf

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The fire started at Cable Bay on Urupukapuka Island, a short walk from Otehei Bay (pictured). PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
The fire started at Cable Bay on Urupukapuka Island, a short walk from Otehei Bay (pictured). PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Volunteer firefighters had to jump on a private boat to get to a blaze started by an illegal campfire on a Bay of Islands nature reserve.

The alarm was raised by campers on Urupukapuka, the largest island in the Bay of Islands and home to rare birds such as the saddleback, about 11pm on Saturday. It is understood the fire was lit by other campers at Cable Bay.

Members of the Rawhiti Rural Fire Party used a boat to get out to the island, which is about 1km from the mainland.

Rural fire boss Myles Taylor said the blaze was almost out when volunteers arrived, but it was a foolish thing to do given all the work Project Island Song had done to replant the island and reintroduce native wildlife.

"For someone to risk all that was very irresponsible," he said.

There were no trees near the fire but plenty of long kikuyu, so the chances of it spreading were high.

"It was lucky that other campers were vigilant and called it in."

The Rawhiti fire crew returned the following day to investigate. Mr Taylor said he was working to identify the people who had started the fire.

Fires are banned year-round on Urupukapuka which is a Department of Conservation-administered reserve.

So far brown teal (pateke) and saddlebacks (tieke) have been released on the island. Whiteheads (popokotea) and North Island robins (toutouwai) are due to follow this autumn.

Meanwhile, ground crews and helicopters armed with monsoon buckets responded to two fires in the Horeke area, South Hokianga, on Sunday afternoon - the first at 3.30pm on Motukiore Rd, the second less than two hours later at Mangataraire Rd.

Both were kikuyu fires kept to less than 0.5ha by quick responses led by the Okaihau Fire Brigade.

Mr Taylor said the first blaze was an unpermitted rubbish fire which had escaped. The second was still being investigated.

"Again, these fires were due to people not paying attention to the fire danger. The grass is catching everyone out. It looks green on top but it's brown underneath and carries fire very easily," he said.

- Northern Advocate

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