WAIRARAPA has endured its worst start to the rural fire season on record with a major blaze at Whareama still at risk of reigniting. Principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky said the blaze at Whareama, east of Masterton, had erupted in a Juken New Zealand pine forestry block in late November. Eight helicopters using monsoon buckets had dumped water on the blaze at its height after high winds forced ground crews to retreat.

High winds had also forced choppers from the air for some time as well, he said, and the fire had eventually involved about 200ha of the block and cost more than a million dollars to fight so far.

"In terms of the season so far, we've had our busiest introduction to summer on record. We had big fires at Whareama, and at Whakataki, and any fires like those are big in anybody's language, and they're significant at any time of the year," he said.

"There are still crews working on the Whareama fire. There are still hotspots there and we're also monitoring the Whakataki fire as well ...


"Fires like that are long-term operations and they're flipping expensive. The Whareama fire has already cost well over a million dollars just in fire suppression."

High winds had also fanned a blaze that broke out at the Erindale Forest block near Whakataki in October that consumed about 30ha of mostly felled pine.

"We've had a lot of wind over spring that affected both of those bigger fires and several others, to which we were able to respond quickly enough to deal to it. Extremely strong winds like that increase problems for us by a very large margin.

"You need a whole lot of different things to happen in your favour to help bring those big fires under control like changes in topography, changes in fuels and breaks in the weather," he said.

"The greater the wind the more dangerous and difficult it is for ground crews and, at times, for helicopters."

Forestry crews had been working at both sites when the blazes erupted with the exhaust from a chainsaw sparking the fire at Whakataki and a similar situation blamed at Whareama.

The rural fire risk in Wairarapa was high, he said, and he warned farmers and forestry workers who use machinery like chainsaws or tractor-mowers in the region to be aware of the increasing fire danger as conditions worsen.

"People have to be careful when they're topping paddocks and that sort of thing. Just in the last couple of weeks we've had fires started by mowers with stone strikes and what not. If there is a need to top paddocks or reap hay or whatever they need to have water on hand.

"We've been very pleased with the support from the public out there and the general fire risk awareness and behaviour, but we all have to remain mindful that the worst of the fire season, and the worst effects of summer, are still ahead of us."