Northland principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor, who had just that day imposed a total fire ban across much of the region, had difficulty containing his frustration last week after yet another potentially calamitous fire at Ahipara.
''This is the third year in a row we've been here. This is the third year we've evacuated houses. This can't keep happening," he said.
"At some stage we won't be able to get here in time, and we are going to lose properties or even lives. The community needs to understand the risk they are in.''
While the cause of last week's blaze, which destroyed more than 50ha of scrub and bush, was still being investigated, previous blazes have been caused by people burning rubbish, often in breach of fire restrictions.
On this occasion flames more than 10m high advanced within metres of some houses, but none were destroyed, thanks to firefighters who stayed on guard throughout the night. Some of those who were evacuated from approximately 100 homes and motels were allowed to return late on Wednesday morning, but others had to wait much longer as strengthening winds and rising temperatures increased the risk of the fire re-igniting.
Meanwhile Mayor John Carter had high only praise for the firefighters who responded to what he described as a very significant fire.
"I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding work carried out by Fire and Emergency NZ and the other emergency services. Without their intervention I shudder to think what might have happened," he said.
"I also want to thank the many individuals and organisations in the area that provided a wonderful level of support to those in the community who were evacuated at the height of the emergency."
He also had a strong fire safety message for visitors and residents alike.
"It is so important that advice and instructions offered by FENZ is followed – to do otherwise is both foolhardy and dangerous," he said.
"This fire was a warning to us. Fortunately, we've escaped without loss of life, loss of property or injury this time, but every resident and every visitor to Northland has a responsibility to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again. This has been a massive warning."
A total fire ban took effect in Whangārei and the Kaipara on Christmas Eve. The Far North remains in a restricted fire season, meaning a permit is needed for any outdoor fires, although permits have been suspended until further notice due to weather conditions. For the latest details on where and when fires can be lit, go to www.checkitsalright.nz