All rural communities are perhaps at greater risk of fire than urban areas, but Te Kao has more to worry about than most.

That was made very clear to Te Kura o Te Kao pupils and a smattering of adults who heard from fire safety officer Mike Champtaloup, who was at the school recently at the invitation of Houhora Fire Brigade volunteer Cynthia Shailes.

Mr Champtaloup said it was important for the community to identify its particular concerns in terms of fire, and kura principal Hemi Takawe had no difficulty doing that.

Along with the standard dangers facing any community, such as the potential loss of homes, and injury or death, Te Kao was immediately adjacent to Te Hiku Forest, where fire could have a devastating impact.


The community could also lose its school, he said, and would have no guarantee that it would be rebuilt.

Mr Champtaloup spoke to the children about precautions that they and their families could take to avoid fires, particularly the common Northland-wide practice of burning rubbish.

"Ninety per cent of vegetation fires in Northland start because someone was burning rubbish," he said.

"That is something we are very keen to change. Everything might look safe, but the next thing you know the fire's spreading and out of control. It's a big problem around the whole of Northland."

A programme promoting recycling and incinerating rubbish at marae had been in place in Wellington, and it might be possible to revive it in the Far North.

Meanwhile attitudes towards burning rubbish might change if the community as a whole made it known that it was "not okay", particularly in a community with as much to lose as Te Kao.

Mr Champtaloup invited those present to "spread it around", and to remind anyone who might be about to light a fire that a total ban was in effect.

Ms Shailes also suggested the children tell their parents and others to be very careful with cigarette butts.


Meanwhile, Mr Champtaloup said Te Kao was 18 minutes away from the Houhora Fire Brigade, not counting the time it took to muster a crew, and the nearest firefighting helicopter was 40 minutes away.

"You need to look after yourselves," he said.

Ms Shailes said Fire and Emergency NZ could help by providing smoke alarms, while there was strong support for the stationing of a fire appliance there.

Mr Champtaloup said that would be addressed at some point in the future, but it was unlikely to happen any time soon.

In the meantime the community could provide some self-protection by mounting a water tank on a ute or a quad bike for use in an emergency.

Kevin Wilton, the local school bus driver, suggested a hui to get the whole community involved, marae chairman Mark Nathan undertaking to get that process under way.