A bach and a shed were destroyed by fire at Ahipara on Friday morning, but ground crews and four helicopters saved a number of homes after they were evacuated.

The alarm was raised at 1.24am, the fire consuming 5ha of bush and other vegetation on a steep hillside above the coatal settlement before it was contained, some six or seven hours later.

Firefighters were forced to withdrawn and wait for daylight to resume battling the blaze. Photo / Supplied
Firefighters were forced to withdrawn and wait for daylight to resume battling the blaze. Photo / Supplied

About half a dozen homes off the Gumfields Rd were evacuated, but all appeared to have been spared.

Flames reached to within a few metres of some, and the deck of one began burning. Those flames were doused with one well-targetted helicopter monsoon bucket of water.

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Fire brigade crews and tankers from Ahipara, Kaitaia, Rangiputa, Broadwood, Karikari and Houhora responded to the callout, while four Salt Air helicopters shuttled back and forth from Te Kohanga (Shipwreck Bay) to the fire.

Ground crews were stationed on the road to Te Kohanga, where the fire was believed to have started, ready to respond in the event of flames crossing the road, in which case more homes would have been threatened.

Fire Safety Officer Colin Kitchen said it was fortunate the helicopters arrived when they did. They took off from the Ahipara rugby field at 6.45am, by which time it was light enough for them to fly.

The wind, from the south-east, which was blowing into the fire as it made its way down the hill, had also worked out well, he said, adding that the outcome, both in terms of the fire's spread and property damage, could have been much worse.

The town's electricity had been turned off, and earthmoving machinery also began arriving at a little after 8am to assist with firebreaks.

A Fire and Emergency officer at the scene of an evacuated house in Ahipara. Photo / Peter Jackson
A Fire and Emergency officer at the scene of an evacuated house in Ahipara. Photo / Peter Jackson

Kitchen said he expected ground crews to remain at the scene, dampening hot spots, for several days, although much of the terrain was very steep, in places almost sheer, which made ground access difficult.

A Fire and Emergency mobile command post was set up on Foreshore Rd, with a St John ambulance, which was not needed, parked nearby, while police manned a roadblock at the western end of Foreshore Rd.

By 10am the fire was effectively out, although helicopters were still dropping water on some areas showing smoke, and evacuated residents had not been allowed to return to their homes.

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Principal Rural Fire Officer and incident controller Myles Taylor said the location where the fire had started, on the side of the road to Te Kohanga, had been identified.

He said the cause was not yet known but he was 90 per cent certain it had been started by someone acting either maliciously or by accident.

An officer working on the steep terrain at the scene of a scrub fire in Ahipara. Photo / Peter Jackson
An officer working on the steep terrain at the scene of a scrub fire in Ahipara. Photo / Peter Jackson

Taylor was pleased to see his estimate on how long it would take to resolve was pretty accurate.

"The quality of the people we have here is so good, I knew we would get a good run at a it," he said.

"The early arrival of the helicopters helped too."

The day was not over for the scores of volunteers who had turned out though. Having been there since 1.30am, many would now clean their gear, get changed and go to work.

Monitoring of the hillside over the next few days would include the use of a thermal imaging camera to check for hot spots.

Fire and Emergency NZ shift manager Daniel Nicholson earlier said concerted efforts to quell the blaze were put off unitl dawn as it was too dangerous for ground crews because of the hilly terrain and the darkness.

He reminded people a total fire ban was in place for Northland.