Several Far North landowners can expect hefty bills in the mail after a spate of fires around the district, one of which threatened a major forestry block.

Fire restrictions have been in place in the Far North since December but fire bosses upped the ante last Saturday by cancelling the few fire permits that had been issued and vowing to send a helicopter at the first sign of smoke anywhere in the district.

Any firestarters who could be identified would be ordered to pay firefighting costs. Each helicopter costs about $2000 an hour to operate.

The most serious of Tuesday's rash of fires was in a Ngati Hine-owned forestry block near Moerewa, spotted about 6.20pm by a Salt Air chopper pilot on his way to another fire at Rawene.


Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said three helicopters, from Paihia and Whangarei, were dispatched along with four ground crews from Kaikohe and Kawakawa.

By hitting the blaze fast and hard it was limited to an area of about 40m x 40m.

It appeared to have been started by a small campfire which someone had tried to extinguish and cover with soil. However, the wind had come up and blown embers into nearby pine needles.

"It's madness to have any sort of fire close to vegetation at this time," Mr Taylor said. The ground crews' job was made difficult by the inaccessible location off Ngawhitu Rd.
Two more fires on Tuesday afternoon were not malicious but had been caused by people not paying heed to the fire danger.
Two helicopters were sent to a vegetation fire near State Highway 12, South Hokianga, sparked by fireworks about 5.35pm; while a blaze at Ahipara about 5.50pm was started by a Kaka St landowner.
Earlier in the day, about 11.45am, a helicopter was dispatched to Hukatere Rd, Pukenui, but not required after ground crews quickly brought the blaze under control.

Mr Taylor said the authority was investigating all four fires and would recover its costs wherever the people responsible could be identified. In the case of the SH12 fire, for example, two helicopters were sent from Paihia, a flight of about 20 minutes each way.

That amounted to a bill of more than $2000 even before the choppers got to work.

Fire restrictions are also in place in the Whangarei and Kaipara districts, where authorities have all but stopped issuing permits.