With a hot, dry summer predicted, Fire and Emergency New Zealand is urging people not to light fires during the season on islands that are public conservation land, after campfires were lit on Motumaire near Paihia, and Waewaetorea in the outer Bay of Islands.
The warning comes after several large fires occurred in recent years on nearby Moturua and Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands off Cape Reinga.
And those who ignore the warning could face up to two years’ jail, or a fine of up to $200,000 — plus the costs of the damage and putting out the fire.
In January 2019, a wildfire sparked by fireworks came within metres of wiping out an entire island, and 10 years of work bringing back endangered birdlife on a small islet off the northwestern tip of Moturua Island.
The fire quickly ripped through the islet and threatened to jump a gap of about 15m separating it from Moturua. Almost all of Moturua is covered in dense bush and has several homes. Northland principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said at the time disaster was averted only because the northwesterly wind blew the flames and embers away from Moturua.
The Department of Conservation manages the islands stretching from the Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands to the Hen and Chickens Islands off Bream Bay, with concentrations in the Bay of Islands, near Whangaroa Harbour, and the Cavalli Islands.
DoC does not allow the lighting of fires on any islands they manage in Northland, a stance supported by Fire and Emergency.
The Far North has had fire restrictions or total fire bans in place over recent summers.
Fire and Emergency Northland district manager Wipari Henwood said with the country expecting an El Nino weather pattern in summer, hotter, drier and windier conditions were predicted.
“This heightens the fire risk across Aotearoa. Our islands pose unique challenges when it comes to the risk of fire and fire control measures. Being offshore they can sometimes receive less rainfall and stronger winds, which dries out vegetation faster than on the mainland,” Wipari said.
“If fire escapes, it can quickly become uncontrollable and, being surrounded by water, makes a quick firefighting response difficult.’’
He would like the public to understand the risks of lighting fires on islands this summer.
“Fire safety can become less of a priority during recreational boating activities, including landing and activities on islands. Additionally, people often believe that a fire on the beach is safe at any time — which it’s not as hot embers can rise and land on nearby grass or vegetation starting a wildfire. We really encourage everyone to think twice before lighting a fire in these areas as we head into summer.”
DoC Bay of Islands operations manager Bronwyn Bauer-Hunt said fires were not allowed at any time on islands that are public conversation land.
“Our islands have special biodiversity values and are home to threatened plant and animal species, some of which only exist in a few places. Wildfire can be devastating to these native ecosystems,” she said.
‘’A lot of these islands are also pest free so checking your boat for any rodent stowaways or unwanted pests is a good idea. Dogs are not permitted on islands managed by DoC as they disturb or threaten wildlife.’’
Depending on the status of the land, an individual who lights an unauthorised fire that causes damage may face up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $200,000, plus the costs of the damage and putting out the fire.
Fire and Emergency reminds everyone that before lighting a fire anywhere this summer, to check the fire danger level at www.checkitsalright.nz.