Vigilance keeps fire costs down

By Peter de Graaf, Imran Ali of the Northern Advocate -

Fighting fires in the Far North over summer cost slightly less than $500,000.

It might sound a lot, but it's nothing compared to the summer of 2011-12 when rural fires claimed two lives and cost more than $2 million to put out.

The total fire ban was lifted in Whangarei/Kaipara on April 16 and in the Far North a few days later. However, permits are still required on the fire-prone Aupouri and Karikari peninsulas and north of Kaitaia-Awaroa Rd.

Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor thanked Northlanders for their restraint during the ban.

"There's been a significant reduction in suppression costs this season. In 2011-2012 costs reached over $2 million but this season it has been below $500,000," he said.

"People have been showing vigilance in reporting fires in the early stages, which has meant we've been able in many cases to prevent the spread. There has also been a greater level of responsibility and restraint shown by the public, for which the authority is very grateful."

Two fires, both of which required three helicopters to put out, accounted for the bulk of the cost.

A 10ha fire at Waipoua Forest cost about $150,000 and an 11ha blaze at Horeke about $120,000.

Even with the ban had been lifted Mr Taylor urged people to take care when lighting fires and keep a close eye on wind and weather conditions.

"If people are in any doubt, they should give the authority a call for advice. The onus is still on property owners to take reasonable care," he said.

Meanwhile, Whangarei/Kaipara principal rural fire officer Kevin Ihaka said the cost of fighting fires in his jurisdiction had been virtually nil.

"We haven't had a major fire this summer season, apart from a couple of minor ones costing a few hundred dollars."

Mr Ihaka praised the public for acting responsibly, especially during the drought. The only major fire in Whangarei or Kaipara was on Department of Conservation (DoC) land at Pouto Peninsula that tore through 200ha of forest early this year. A DoC spokesman said the cost of fighting the Pouto fire was likely to reach $200,000, making it Northland's most expensive fire of the 2012-13 season.

The cost of putting out rural fires, except on DoC land, is initially covered by the local district council. The council is later reimbursed for 95 per cent of its costs by the national rural firefighting fund, which gets its money from DoC and a fire levy on insurance policies.

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