Blaze caused by fireworks costs $185,000 to fight

By Peter de Graaf -
3 comments
A wildfire started by fireworks lights up the sky over Maitai Bay.
A wildfire started by fireworks lights up the sky over Maitai Bay.

A massive blaze sparked by fireworks on the Karikari Peninsula has so far cost about $185,000 to put out.

Two more fires since then, both started by unpermitted burn-offs, have an "incredibly frustrated" Far North rural fire boss warning it's only a matter of time before homes or lives are lost. He has also vowed to make anyone found responsible pay the full firefighting costs.

The most serious fire so far this summer started about 10pm on New Year's Eve near the popular Maitai Bay campground on Karikari Peninsula.

Kaitaia fire chief Colin Kitchen said conditions were initially too dangerous for crews from Kaitaia, Mangonui, Karikari and Rangiputa to go to work, so they focussed on protecting threatened houses instead. Two homes were evacuated but campers were not required to move.

Another firefighter said some revellers were still setting off fireworks even as the fire raged nearby.

Three helicopters using monsoon buckets fought the 12ha blaze on Sunday with two continuing on Monday. Four ground crews were at the scene yesterday putting out hotspots. It was hoped the fire would be out today but fire patrols will keep checking for flare-ups.

Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said he was "incredibly frustrated" that many firefighters were unable to spend New Year's Eve with their families because of the stupidity of a few people.

"This is the problem we have with fireworks every year. People just don't realise the impact."

The fire authority was investigating the Maitai Bay blaze with help of police. They had part of a vehicle registration and witness accounts of people lighting fireworks.

Meanwhile, a fire which started at Taupo Bay about 6.45pm on Tuesday saddled taxpayers with another $10,000 in firefighting costs.

Mr Taylor said it was "incredibly lucky" that a quick response by helicopters limited the blaze to 0.5ha. High winds could have pushed the fire all the way to Whangaroa Harbour.

The Taupo Bay blaze was started by an unpermitted attempt to burn off vegetation.

The Far North's rural fire boss said it was "incredibly lucky" that helicopters stopped this Taupo Bay fire before high winds pushed it over the ridge to Whangaroa Harbour.
The Far North's rural fire boss said it was "incredibly lucky" that helicopters stopped this Taupo Bay fire before high winds pushed it over the ridge to Whangaroa Harbour.

Another fire, at Waimate North about 11am on Tuesday, was started by a landowner burning scrap timber. Mr Taylor could not understand why anyone would leave wood lying in a paddock for months, then decide to burn it on a windy day during a restricted fire season.

"It's only a matter of time before we lose houses or a life because of the stupidity of some people."

Where possible the fire authority would recover costs from those responsible. In serious cases the fire-starters could also be prosecuted

The person who started a major fire at Coopers Beach last New Year's Eve by firing a flare into a nature reserve had been convicted of arson.

It has been reported on social media that a DoC ranger discovered the Maitai Bay fire in its early stages and could have put it out with the equipment he had at hand but was not allowed due to health and safety rules.

Mr Taylor, however, said the fire was so dangerous he wouldn't let his own firefighters near it on the first night.

In 2011 a DoC ranger and a helicopter pilot died trying to rescue people from a fire in the same area of Karikari Peninsula. As yet no one has been charged in relation to the deliberately lit fire.

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