Northland man charged with 10 counts of arson

By Kristin Edge -
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Rural firefighters have spent extended periods of time on Pouto Peninsula over the last few years battling fires. Photo / John Stone
Rural firefighters have spent extended periods of time on Pouto Peninsula over the last few years battling fires. Photo / John Stone

A Northland man has been charged with lighting 10 fires in the Kaipara area that have destroyed areas of conservation land and a forest over the past four years.

Andrew Lee Searle, 20, of Te Kopuru, appeared in the Dargaville District Court before Judge Greg Davis yesterday.

Just as Searle was led into the court by a police staff, one of the supporters in the public gallery yelled out.

Judge Davis ordered the man out of the court and warned others if they disrupted proceedings they would be held in contempt of court.

The most recent charge Searle faces relates to a fire at Kellys Bay on January 12 this year.

He was also charged with lighting fires that damaged an area protected by Department of Conservation on January 4 then again on January 7.

Also on January 7, Searle is charged with starting a fire on Toms Track, Te Kopuru, which destroyed vegetation belonging to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

The earliest charges relate to a fire on June 5, 2014, at Toms Track.

Six months later, on December 6, police say, he was responsible for a fire at Stick Lake, near Pouto.

Three charges relate to January 2015 and fires on Lighthouse Rd, Pouto, over two consecutive days.

One of the fires destroyed property belonging to Global Forest Products Ltd.

Searle is also charged with a fire on February 8, 2015, at Toms Track.

He was remanded in custody and will appear again on February 2 when he is expected to plea.

During the latest blaze, at Kellys Bay, two helicopters and ground crews worked by the light of a full moon to douse a scrub fire in Northland.

The fire started in native scrub after 8pm and 14 firefighters from Te Kopuru, and a crew from Dargaville fought the blaze.

A team of rural firefighters remained at the site the next day to ensure there were no flare ups.

Helicopters have been a regular sight over the Pouto Peninsula during the past few years when they are called to help douse scrub and forest fires. Photo / John Stone
Helicopters have been a regular sight over the Pouto Peninsula during the past few years when they are called to help douse scrub and forest fires. Photo / John Stone

Te Kopuru Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Kevin Morgan said at the time that the wind was blowing the fire away from baches at the popular summer destination and was about 700m away at its closest point.

The crews contained the fire until two helicopters arrived to attack it.

They used monsoon buckets to scoop water from the nearby bay and dump it on the fire.

Morgan said work continued into the night and it was fortunate there was a full moon, which helped.

Kellys Bay, on Pouto Peninsula, has been the scene of a number of fires over the years.

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