Fire restrictions will come into force across the Far North at noon on Monday, as the district dries out and the risk of wildfires continues to climb.
As of Monday afternoon a permit will be needed to light any outdoor fire anywhere in the rural Far North, the only exceptions being gas barbecues, hangi, cultural cooking fires, wood-fired barbecues and braziers, if they are used in areas clear of vegetation and buildings and when the wind is less than 5km/h. An adult and an adequate supply of water must also be present at all times.
Principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said the fire danger had been steadily increasing despite occasional rain.
"We're getting a lot of fuel growth. It only takes a little wind, which we've been getting plenty of, and a few dry days, and suddenly we're into the danger zone," he said.
The authority had held back from a total fire ban at this stage, but would review that decision if hotter, drier weather further increased the risk.
"We want people to have the ability to light fires, but not let things get away on them," Mr Taylor added, urging the public to heed fire restrictions and fire safety advice, or risk fines and a hefty bill for firefighting costs.
"A small rubbish fire can quickly develop into a major blaze that covers hundreds of hectares and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to suppress. Our simple message is, if you can't control it, don't light it," he said.
Last weekend saw a series of fire calls around the Far North caused by burn-offs getting out of control. One of the more serious was at Wharau Road, Kerikeri, on Sunday afternoon, which spread through a quarter of a hectare of bush and scrub before it was put out by the Okaihau and Kerikeri brigades. A helicopter was called in as a precaution.
Mr Taylor said it was "the same old story" of people being caught out by the wind: "If you're going to light a fire you need to be very aware of what the wind is doing."
Restrictions are already in place on the fire-prone Aupouri and Karikari peninsulas and coastal areas near Kaitaia, where permits are needed year-round. Last year fire restrictions were imposed on the rest of the Far North in October.
Permit forms can be obtained from www.havingafire.org.nz or from Summit NZ, Aupouri Forest headquarters, DOC's Kaitaia and Bay of Islands offices or Far North District Council service centres (phone 0800 920-029 or (09) 401-5200) during office hours. Up to 72 hours should be allowed for an inspection to be carried out.