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A massive fire has crippled one of the Far North's biggest employers on a day when Northland firefighters were again rushed off their feet.
Northland has been gripped by a series of fires this summer, with many the suspected handiwork of arsonists.
The Fire Service yesterday dealt with serious blazes throughout the region, including a fire at Juken New Zealand's triboard mill on the outskirts of Kaitaia.
The morning blaze, which is believed to have started in sawdust, at one stage threatened to blow up gas bottles.
Production at the site, which employs 175 people, has now been shut down.
Senior firefighters returning to Whangarei from the Kaitaia blaze were called to set up a command centre at a large fire that destroyed 100ha of scrub and threatened houses and livestock at Onekura Rd, north-west of Kerikeri.
The fire started as a controlled burn-off about 2.40pm and was brought under control by about 6pm by about 50 firefighters and four helicopters with monsoon buckets.
The Fire Service says a scrub fire at Waihue Rd north of Dargaville at about 2pm yesterday was suspicious.
Fire Service spokesman Colin Kitchen said the Kaitaia mill blaze started in a 20-by-40 metre building with a mezzanine floor, used as the mill's main workshop.
It had no sprinkler system.
Staff had tried to put the fire out but evacuated the area when flames took hold. Nobody was hurt.
``As we left the fire station we could see she was a massive fire,'' Mr Kitchen said.
Mr Kitchen said the fire was under control by about noon.
His main concern was over acetylene gas bottles which were still burning at 1pm.
Dennis Clarke, the mill's manager, said a loader driver in the store room had first noticed the ``small fire'' in a corner.
With production shut down, there was still plenty for workers to do, he said.
Work scheduled for an annual maintenance shut down next month would now be done.
Mill managers were assessing the situation but ``temporary facilities'' might be sought so production could resume.
Fire Service Northland region commander Trevor Andrews praised firefighters' efforts.
``They saved the whole mill. The fire was only metres from the main complex,'' he said.
Meanwhile, Whangarei police have asked residents to use cameras and cellphones to film crowds who gather to watch suspicious fires in the city in a bid to identify the arsonist.
At a public meeting last night, Whangarei area controller Inspector Paul Dimery said police were following strong leads in the investigation of three suspicious fires in the Whangarei Quarry Gardens.
A suspicious fire on Mt Parihaka this week has not been linked to those fires but police have not ruled out a connection.