The fire that gutted a home in Matilda Place, Kaitaia last week added to a year that at times has stretched the Kaitaia Fire Brigade to its limits.
Senior investigator Maurice Fletcher, from Professional Investigators NZ, examined the interior of the house on Monday, and found the barbecue lighter that he and the brigade believed had been used by a 4-year-old child to start the fire in a bedroom.
Leonie Rogers, who owns the property, said she understood that her tenant had tried to douse the flames with a bucket of water after the garden hose proved too short to reach the bedroom, but the flames exploded beyond control when she opened the door.
A number of neighbours said they could not believe how quickly the fire took control, the flames also getting into the ceiling of the house next door, where a glass door exploded, plastic spouting melted and damage was done by smoke and water.
Meanwhile Chief Fire Officer Colin Kitchen said the brigade had responded to 337 calls for the year (as of Sunday night; that rose to 338 on Monday evening), a new annual record with three weeks of the year still to run. A spate of calls last week, including 10 in 24 hours, and the July storm had made major contributions to the total, but Mr Kitchen was hoping the pressure would ease now that the Far North District Council had imposed a restricted fire season throughout the district, taking effect from noon on Monday this week.
Last week's calls had not all involved fire, he added - medical emergencies and motor vehicle accidents had also been responded to - but there had also been a number of vegetation fires, Mr Kitchen saying he wasn't proud of the new record.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the volunteers, and the people and businesses that employ the volunteers," he said.
"I trust that people understand that if they want to light a fire outdoors from now on they will need a permit. No permit no fire. And anyone who lights a fire that subsequently sees a fire brigade being called can be assured that they will be paying for that."
Firefighters didn't come cheap, he added, but the cost escalated very steeply if helicopters were needed, and this summer they would be summoned in any situation where there was potential for a fire to become sizeable and/or threaten property.
The only exceptions to the need for a permit for any fire anywhere in the rural Far North are gas barbecues, hangi/cultural cooking fires, wood-fired barbecues and braziers, but even then only in areas clear of vegetation and buildings, and when any wind is less than 5km/h. An adult and an adequate water supply must be at hand at all times.
Free permits can be obtained from www.havingafire.org.nz or Summit NZ, Aupouri Forest headquarters, DOC's Kaitaia and Bay of Islands offices or Far North District Council service centres (phone 0800 920-029) during office hours. It may take up to three days to make a site inspection.