Ahipara's Chief Fire Officer Dave Ross has given up keeping count of the suspicious fires his crews have responded to this year, but the tally grew by one when someone set light to a roadside pampas hedge at Wainui Junction in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The alarm was raised at 3.23am, crews from Ahipara, Kaitaia, Broadwood and Mangonui responding. Ahipara were the last to head home, more than six hours later. No one had any doubt that it had been deliberately lit.
The fire covered a 150m stretch of roadside, directly beneath power lines, and jumped the road into pampas on the other side before it was brought under control, Ross saying pampas was notoriously difficult to put out, particularly in windy conditions.
And he was becoming concerned by the amount of time that volunteer firefighters were spending away from their jobs and families.
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"Some serious money has to be put into the emergency services up here," he said.
"If it wasn't for Kaitaia (Fire Brigade) the whole Far North would collapse."
The Kaitaia brigade responded to 12 alarms, from Kaitaia to Herekino, in the five days to mid-morning yesterday, and for the year so far is running at well over one call per day.
Meanwhile the Ōkaihau and Kaikohe brigades dealt with a roadside burn-off that reduced visibility on State Highway 1 south of Ōkaihau on Tuesday. The fire, in scrub near the junction with Te Ahu Ahu Rd, was not endangering property, but by late morning a gusty wind was blowing so much smoke across the highway that it was difficult to see, prompting motorists to stop and carry out traffic control until the brigades arrived.
Ōkaihau deputy Chief Fire Officer Todd Campbell said the property owner was there during the controlled burn.
The call was one of four for the brigade in just over 24 hours, starting with the Kaikohe house fire at about 3am.