It could take months to fully extinguish a deep-seated fire smouldering in a sawdust pile on a rural Northland property.
Fire and Emergency incident controller, Deputy Principal Fire Officer Michael Champtaloup, said the sawdust pile was down a steep bank on rural land at Pataua North Road, east of Whangarei, and also contained timber offcuts, forestry slash and tyres.
"The fire has been contained. However, it is very deep-seated in the pile, which is understood to have been accumulating for more than 20 years," Champtaloup said.
"This, combined with access issues created by the steep, 40m high working face, means the fire could smoulder for weeks, potentially months."
Fire and Emergency was called to the fire on private land, between Whareora and Pataua North, on Tuesday at 8.30am.
A helicopter with a monsoon bucket, as well as firefighting crews on the ground, were initially used to extinguish the fire.
Since then two diggers and a bulldozer have been used to build a containment line and remove items from the fire.
Other flammable material on the site, such as stacks of wooden pallets and other piles of sawdust, is being shifted further away from the fire.
Following advice from Northland District Health Board public health staff, residents in the four houses nearby have been visited and advised to disconnect their downpipes supplying their water tanks until rain forecast in the coming days has washed any ash from the fire off their roofs.
The property owner, who lives on the site, has been advised to vacate if the wind changes and takes the smoke plume in the direction of the house.
Firefighters working in the inner cordon of the incident are wearing air purifying respirators due to the possible risk from prolonged exposure to smoke.
Fire and Emergency has liaised with key stakeholders including Northland Regional Council, Northland District Health Board, local hapu Ngati Korora, WorkSafe, Hancocks Forestry and Whangarei District Council, and will continue to keep them updated.
A co-ordinated approach is in place to manage the incident. This will ensure precautionary public safety measures are in place and potential environmental concerns are monitored and addressed.
Northland Regional Council will be carrying out environmental monitoring on the site and will also be investigating activities that have been carried out on the site in relation to complying with Regional Plan rules.
A fire investigator is on site to try and determine what started the fire.