Residents and passing motorists watched in horror yesterday as a fully laden logging truck was gutted by fire on its way to pick up a trailer.

The fire at the boundary of Whangarei and Far North districts on Pipiwai Rd about 11am caused about $4000 worth of damage to the road and disrupted north- and south-bound traffic for a couple of hours.

An electrical fault is believed to have caused the fire, which happened just hours after a meeting to discuss log truck safety concerns had convened in Whangarei.

The truck, owned by Rotorua Forest Haulage, was a write-off.


Senior Constable John van Pomeren from the police's Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit said the driver noticed what he thought was steam coming from the radiator, before the truck started to lose power.

He pulled over immediately and walked back to the cab where he saw flames.

Mr van Pomeren said the driver tried unsuccessfully to douse the flames using a fire extinguisher. The driver had been en route to collect a trailer.

The damaged logs were transferred to another truck and taken away.

Three fire engines from Whangarei and Kamo and an ambulance were sent to the scene.

By the time firefighters arrived the truck was totally engulfed but they prevented about 400 litres of diesel from running into a nearby stream.

Northland Regional Council and the Whangarei District Council were notified and roading contractors estimated damage to the road at $4000.

Jacqui Knight was driving back to Auckland from Kaikohe when she came across the fire. She called out to the driver to check whether he was okay before seeing him jumping out of the truck with a fire extinguisher, coughing and choking.

"I went down to the [Te Horo] school and phoned the ambulance because I thought the fire was out by this time.

"One of the teachers had a first-aid certificate and she went to assist the driver," said the Duffy Books in Homes employee.

A local, Kylie McLean, saw smoke from the farm about 11am and was stopped by police while driving north an hour later.

"There was really black smoke. I couldn't get through. Police said fire hoses and debris from the fire would probably puncture the tyres of my vehicle," she said.

Meanwhile, two Rollover Prevention Safer Journeys seminars in Whangarei to discuss ways logging truck rollovers could be prevented were attended by more than 180 truck drivers, transport operators and forestry owners. They were held on Thursday and yesterday as part of 33 seminars that have been organised by the Road Transport Forum NZ throughout the country.

Logging truck drivers and freight loaders were told about factors that could cause a truck to roll, including the influence of speed, centre of gravity, weight transfer and cornering forces.

Representatives from Unions Northland took the opportunity to launch a living wage campaign by waving banners outside Toll Stadium after the seminar finished yesterday morning. The union feels it is totally unacceptable for Class 5 logging truck drivers to be paid $16.60 an hour and believes the rate should be in the mid $20s.