A 25-year-old man has been charged with arson in relation to a fire in a historic reserve started by an explosion on a Bay of Islands beach.
The man, from the Kerikeri area, appeared in the Kaikohe District Court on Friday. The arrest comes as Northland declares a total fire ban due to the hot, dry weather, which means no fires can be lit anywhere across the region.
Witnesses saw four men acting suspiciously on the beach next to Marsden Cross, on the Purerua Peninsula, on the evening of January 19 shortly before a large explosion.
Flames spread quickly up the side of historic Rangihoua Pā, engulfing the northern side of the pā before the blaze was brought under control.
Seven fire appliances and about 30 firefighters from Kerikeri, Kaeo, Kaikohe, Kawakawa and Okaihau responded, with cliffside hotspots doused by helicopter the following morning. Firefighters said the blaze had been started by ''some sort of home-made incendiary device''.
One of the four men needed medical treatment after suffering what appeared to be a seizure. At least two of his companions fled before police and firefighters arrived.
Detective Natalie Syddall, of Mid North police, said the 25-year-old was due back in court on February 8. No one else would be charged over the explosion and resulting fire.
The area around Marsden Cross is known for its large North Island brown kiwi population — a witness reported hearing kiwi distress calls during the fire — but an inspection of the site by DoC rangers found no dead birds or fire-damaged nests.
Since then, however, a member of the public has reported finding a dead kiwi the following morning at the base of the cliff where the fire occurred. DoC has been asked for confirmation.
Meanwhile, firefighters are still at the scene of a massive fire on Giles Rd, near Horeke, which has been burning since Saturday.
Principal northern rural fire officer Myles Taylor said as of yesterday 40 firefighters were still at the scene along with two helicopters, two bulldozers, two tankers, a digger and a harvesting machine. The fire had covered 65ha but was now contained.
Fire investigators had determined where the blaze started but not yet how it started. The extreme fire conditions prompted Fire and Emergency NZ to impose a Northland-wide total fire ban from midnight Monday.
''We're getting big fires every day. We're getting pretty stretched,'' Taylor said.
Another fire, near Kerikeri on Monday afternoon, was sparked by vegetation coming into contact with power lines.
The blaze spread through about 300m of bush and scrub along Wharau Rd and was put out by fire crews from Kerikeri and Okaihau, who pumped water from a creek on nearby Inlet Rd.
Kerikeri fire chief Les Wasson said a Salt Air helicopter happened to be passing overhead on its way to pick up a passenger from Kauri Cliffs golf course when the pilot saw the fire.
''It was smoky all right. We could see it from Reinga Rd,'' Wasson said.
He flew back to base, picked up a monsoon bucket and dropped several loads of sea water before continuing on his way.
The fire cut power to 85 households in the Wharau Rd area for five hours.
Breaching a fire ban can bring penalties of up to $300,000 or two years' jail.