Massive scrub blaze treated as suspicious

By Laurilee McMichael, Gary Hamilton-Irvine


A bush fire in Taupo raged for three hours destroying 4ha of bush and pine next to Spa Park.


The fire started about 2pm yesterday with 12 firefighters and two helicopters called to deal with the flames.


Incident controller Phil Parker, from the Taupo Rural Fire Service, said they were forced to evacuate the Spa Hotel and cordon off two nearby roads.


He said they were lucky the wind was not stronger as the fire was heading towards a cluster of buildings near Centennial Dr.


Mr Parker said there was a lot of hot thermal ground and large gullies in the area, making it difficult for fire crews.


"It spread very rapidly," he said.


Mr Parker said it took about three hours to get the flames under control and fire crews would be working until this morning to dampen any hot spots.


He said the fire appeared to have been deliberately lit because of the remote location. He said it was also the third fire in the area in the last two years.


"Someone has had to go all the way in there to light it, it wasn't just someone flicking a cigarette butt," he said.


"The fire service will be holding an investigation." He said nearby County Ave and Spa Rd were expected to be closed to traffic until this morning.


Spa Hotel operator Scott Rinkin said his groundsman came into the hotel shortly after 2pm and said there was a fire in Spa Park.


He said 20 minutes later police came into the hotel and said everyone needed to be evacuated.


"We have quite a few foreigners here and I told them to grab their wallet and passport and go," he said.


Mr Rinkin said he only took over the hotel lease yesterday, so it was a worrying start.


He said more than 10 people, including two families, were rushed to the end of Spa Rd where they stayed for about 90 minutes while the fire service put out the flames.


"You could see a lot of smoke but the helicopter and monsoon bucket was what did the job I think."


Mr Rinkin said the hotel was almost destroyed by a fire in 1991 and they were lucky the wind direction had changed yesterday.


 


Shortly after the fire began, a group of five teenagers, who had been swimming at the AC Baths, went across the road to where the fire was to take a closer look.


They described it as being as big as two rugby fields, if not bigger.


They said they could hear the fire crackling in the trees.


"As the pine needles fell to the ground, they would start little fires on the ground," one of the teenagers said.


The teenagers told The Daily Post they were running around trying to stomp out the fires.


They said the fire would spread quickly from one tree to the next.


The teenagers were later told to leave the area by emergency services staff.


Another fire crew was expected to arrive late yesterday afternoon to help the Taupo Rural Fire Service, Taupo Fire Service and DoC Fire Service in damping down hot spots.


 

- Rotorua Daily Post

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