A sparking power line in high winds is blamed for a fire that jumped a highway and raged over at least 200m by 300m of pine forest north of Whangamata where occupants of two houses were on standby for evacuation this morning.
Twelve fire appliances, an ambulance, police and helicopters with two monsoon buckets were at the scene after eye witnesses say the fire sent flames above mature trees on the side of SH25a.
Ed Askew told Coastal News he saw flames as he pulled over en route from Pauanui to Whangamata.
"Strong orange flames were just above that tree, when we first came here you could basically see how they'd jumped the road and the smoke went further to the left into the forest.
"It was pretty impressive, pretty scary."
Whangamata CFO Nigel Airey said it appeared the blaze was caused by high winds and a tree that caught fire near power lines.
"It was on the roadside for about 25m and jumped the main road into a stand of mature pines, 200m by 300m at least.
"Then it jumped into a younger stand that runs all the way to Onemana so our biggest effort was to keep it from heading north."
All traffic was stopped and the road was reopened a short time ago. But at least a dozen motorists and a school bus full of Whangamata Area School teenagers were left waiting for at least two hours as the fire hit just as they had collected students from Onemana and Tairua on the way to school.
CFO Nigel Airey said Powerco was onsite cutting around vegetation and had been through the area only three to four weeks ago to remove growth from around power lines.
"At this stage [the cause] is power lines and high winds," he said. "The winds really got up this morning."
Two appliances from Whangamata, two from Whiritoa, Onemana Rural Fire's unimog and support vehicle, appliances from Pauanui, Tairua and near Hamilton all raced to the scene as well as two helicopters.
The helicopters returned with monsoon buckets and by 2pm, crews were seeking embers with thermal cameras.
Nigel Airey confirmed two houses in the forest where the fire left large areas of trees scorched were on standby for evacuation but this was not required. No one was injured in the blaze.
Onemana rural fire chief Jo Adams said the brigade had been preparing for a big fire with drought conditions raising alert levels.
"She's been a big job. Rayonier's manager and I had a meeting about this the other day, saying when one gets going, it's going to get ugly," said Jo. "It had a lot of potential. Ember transfer just jumped and that was it. There was a lot of dry fuel."
Jo said crews would need to be "mopping up" for the next few days to ensure no sparking of fire again.