Action is being taken to reduce the risk of fires in Bay of Plenty rail corridors after an "unprecedented" number of flare-ups this summer.
The latest was on Sunday when six fires erupted along the State Highway 29A corridor between Mount Maunganui and Matapihi in 90 minutes from about 3.30pm, stretching firefighting resources and forcing some residents to defend their properties with garden hoses until help arrived.
Firefighters returned to the burned area yesterday to dampen down new hotspots as the fire threatened to restart.
Tauranga senior station officer Peter Reinhard said, because the soil was so dry, the fire probably travelled underground through roots and dead matter.
Reinhard was working with KiwiRail to find ways to reduce the risk, including clearing the vegetation around the Matapihi fire.
KiwiRail's acting chief operations officer Henare Clarke said the heat had dried out vegetation in the corridor contributing to "an unprecedented number of small fire breakouts".
Clarke could not be sure of the cause of either of the Sunday fires or another series of fires on Maunganui Rd on January 28.
No faults were found on the track or the two trains - one mainly empty, one with full coal wagons - that passed through the Mount yesterday afternoon.
"However, we do know that friction between rail wheels and the track can cause sparks during acceleration and braking. This is common, occurs in normal operation and is not the result of any fault in either the train or the track."
He said KiwiRail was treating the situation seriously and taking steps to lower the risk.
These included creating a fire break several metres wide through the areas of concern including Matapihi, using a water truck to dampen the area near the track, controlling vegetation and reprioritising our maintenance teams to inspect trackside for fires.
"We understand the concerns of residents in the unusually dry conditions, and we are working hard on preventive measures."
Train leaves trail of small fires
Eldred Irving was walking home from the Mount Maunganui RSA about 3.30pm on Sunday when he saw a slow-moving train leaving a trail of small fires in its wake.
"The fires seemed to be starting up behind it as it went by."
He hurried back into the RSA and had a staff member call 111, then joined the gathering crowd on the footpath across Maunganui Rd from the fires.
It took about 10 minutes for firefighters to arrive.
Irving was not too concerned about the potential for fires in the rail corridor to spread to houses given the width of Maunganui Rd in between.
"But I suppose you never know with sparks and things."