A helicopter pilot needed medical treatment for ash in his eyes as firefighters battled a massive forest fire last night.
Northern Fire Communications spokesman Jaron Phillips said the pilot was flying one of three helicopters using monsoon buckets to fight the 65ha fire in Dome Valley, 10km north of Warkworth. The pilot was grounded so he could be treated by St John Ambulance officers.
A further 40 firefighters from distant stations including Auckland were also battling to bring the fire under control in a light northeasterly wind last night, Phillips said.
One fire crew had been forced to retreat from the fire.
The fire may have been started by skeet shooters seen in the area, Phillips said. Firefighters evacuated the shooters and closed Wright and Waiwhiu Rds. No homes were threatened. Phillips was also arranging for electronic signs along State Highway One to warn motorists of smoke drifting across the highway.
Local resident Daniel Fenning said he saw smoke on the hill behind his house and went up by motocycle to look. "I was pretty much above it when all of a sudden it just exploded into this massive, massive fire."
Fenning said he could still hear helicopters overhead at 11pm.