Fire contained, but hotspots remain in blackened Hawke's Bay landscape

By Nicki Harper -
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Matt Walker, a rural firefighter from Rangitikei, works behind the fire cordon. Photo / Warren Buckland
Matt Walker, a rural firefighter from Rangitikei, works behind the fire cordon. Photo / Warren Buckland

Smoking piles of earth, blackened trees, scorched earth and collapsed fencelines are the visible signs that remain of the Waimarama Rd fire that ravaged 162ha of grassland and pine forest this week.

Hawke's Bay Today went behind the Waimarama Rd cordon yesterday to see the effects of the fire that thanks to the efforts of firefighters was contained by firebreaks from spreading further afield.

Forestry and volunteer crews, fire investigators and two Defence Force unimobs with Army officers were still on the scene yesterday checking for smoking hotspots within the scorched trees, many of which will die in coming weeks from the effects of the intense heat.

Trevor Bullock, the field operations manager for the national incident management team, who travelled from Whangarei to assist, said Army personnel were set to take over the night shift last night to give the locals a break.

"There will be two to three crews patrolling through the night - it's safe now at night as they will be able to see the smoke or any glowing embers in their headlights."

Driving through the area on tracks and firebreaks carved by bulldozers and diggers, hotspots were still visible with smoke escaping from mounds of dirt.

Mr Bullock said ground crews with hoselines and hand tools were deeper in the forest patrolling through and digging over any warm or smoking areas to ensure they were dead.

In some areas, logs were being pulled to pieces and soaked with water.

From today, he said, heat cameras would be brought in to pick up on any areas that could not be detected by eye. Personnel at the scene were also talking to residents in the area to ensure they were feeling comfortable with the situation.

The work done by local brigades to keep the fire away from some of the houses in the immediate area was evident, with blackened earth visible right up to the sections, and nearby fencelines collapsed on the ground, with posts seared off at the bottom.

Havelock North Volunteer Fire Brigade firefighter Tinica Mitchell was one of the first to arrive at the fire on Monday morning, and said although they knew there were houses in the vicinity the smoke was so thick they were walking into the unknown and could only hope they were not too late.

Although one house was burned down, it was some comfort to have saved others.

"As soon as we got to the houses we knew they were okay but also that it would be close - we knew if we had been a couple of minutes later we would have lost them."

They had arrived in wildfire uniform, she said, but changed into structure gear with full breathing apparatus - an extra 18kg of weight coupled with 34C heat.

"We had three of us manning hoses and pump operators supplied us with water and ran out the hoses - we were working in the smoke and a controller was there to guide us and we had an escape plan in case we needed to exit."

Mr Bullock praised the urban brigades for their efforts to protect the houses, and added there was one major message to come from all the recent fires.

"We urge people to be very careful with things that create a spark such as rotary mowers or any heat sources - there is still an extreme fire danger."

In addition, the Hastings District Council has advised that it will consider prosecuting anyone in Hastings who lights a fire in the outdoors, including hangi, solid-fuel barbecues and fireworks.

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