A total fire ban across Northland officially came into effect at 8am on Monday, five days after all previously issued fire permits were cancelled.
Northland's Principal Rural Fire Officer Myles Taylor said last week that the region was "ready to burn," and there had been no let-up since in the hot, dry, windy conditions that prompted the cancellation of permits.
Mr Taylor's concern was vindicated within hours of the ban taking effect, when fierce fire broke out in dense gorse off Jordan Rd, west of Kaikohe. The blaze, believed to have been started by a bee smoker, engulfed about 4ha of vegetation before firefighters from the Kaikohe urban and rural brigades, and two Salt Air helicopters from Paihia, got it under control.
A man suffering from smoke inhalation and possible heat exhaustion was taken to hospital.
Kaikohe's Chief Fire Officer, Bill Hutchinson, said if it was established that the blaze had in fact been started by a spark from a bee smoker, that would be an indication of just how dry and volatile vegetation had become in the Mid North.
"Quite a lot of beehives were lost, which is tragic," he said, adding that while "millions" of bees had been flying around, only one firefighter had been stung.
Deputy Principal Rural Fire Officer Clinton Lyall, who subsequently confirmed that beekeeping activities were the likely cause of the fire, urged anyone who used hot-work practices outdoors to be cautious, especially between 2 and 5pm, and to consider whether they were absolutely necessary given the current extreme weather conditions.
Meanwhile Mr Taylor said a prohibited fire season meant no fires were permitted. Only gas barbecues and hāngi fires were allowed, but anyone planning a hāngi was asked to make contact first, so the site could be checked and additional protection measures arranged, if required.
It was vitally important that people understood the risks, he added. In extreme conditions a single spark from the likes of a lawnmower, a grinder or a plough could start a devastating wildfire.
"To protect your home, keep roofs and gutters clear of dead leaves, debris and pine needles, and move anything that could burn, such as mulch, leaves and firewood piles, away from exterior walls, decks or porches," he said.
"If you see smoke it's a fire that shouldn't be there, and we need to know about it. And if you notice your neighbours are having rubbish fires, just go and have a word with them, or call us and we'll have a word. We need to get the message out and keep everyone safe."
Meanwhile firefighters were back at the scene of a scrub fire near Herekino on Monday morning with a water tanker to deal with the last of the remaining hotspots. The blaze, which covered an area about 40 metres square, was started by a car fire on Sunday night. The Ahipara, Broadwood and Kaitaia fire brigades responded.
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