Fatigued firefighters already battling vegetation fires in intolerable heat across Northland are on high alert as continuous high temperatures create tinder-dry conditions.

With the heat of the day taking its toll on ground crews, volunteer firefighters are increasingly putting helicopters that cost $2600 an hour on standby and using them to contain fires.

"We're on high alert due to a heightened risk of scrub fires and just putting plans in place to manage them. A chopper is put on standby because it's sometimes dangerous for ground crews to fight those fires," Kawakawa fire chief Wayne Martin said.

"Choppers knock the fire down before ground crews move in. Everything's a lot drier and luckily there's no wind, only heat otherwise the conditions in Northland would have been above extreme."

Kawakawa fire chief Wayne Martin says rubbish fires need to stop as they easily get out of control. Photo/NZME
Kawakawa fire chief Wayne Martin says rubbish fires need to stop as they easily get out of control. Photo/NZME

Martin, who is also the deputy Rural Fire Officer for Northland, said fire crews across the region were a lot busier so far this summer than at this time last year due to a less-than-average rainfall in 2019.

Helicopters helped contain a fire that destroyed about six hectares of mature pine trees and threatened to spiral out of control on Ngapipito Rd, between Moerewa and Kaikohe, about 7pm on Sunday.

Within an hour of returning from a scrub fire that threatened a house at Motatau, fire crews were called to the Ngapipito Rd fire.

The pine trees were in a 5000-hectare pine block owned by the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust.

Six fire appliances from Kaikohe and Kawakawa and four helicopters were used to bring the fire under control just before 11pm but a crew stayed on site overnight in case it flared up again.

An investigation into the cause of the fire has started.

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Martin said ground crews contained the fire from spreading to more pine trees and outside the forestry block while the helicopters focused on putting the blaze out.

A rural fire crew went to the site yesterday morning to strengthen the containment lines and to dampen down hot spots with help from three helicopters.


Northland Weather Updates reported temperatures in the early 30C in some places around Whangārei and the mid North yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, firefighters managed to put out a grass fire on a farmland between Whalers Rd and Hauhora Heads Rd in Pukenui, 35km north of Awanu, without using a helicopter.

An investigation into the cause will start today.

With sizzling temperatures across Northland over the weekend and more of the same forecast for this week, Martin reminded people to stop lighting rubbish fires as a total fire ban is still in place.

Martin said the excuse by some people they were not aware of the fire ban did not wash anymore.

A person convicted of lighting an open fire during a fire ban can be sentenced to up to two years in prison or fined a maximum of $300,000, or both.

"Firefighters are starting to get fatigued in this very dry weather. People are still lighting rubbish fires and that needs to stop because they can easily get out of control.

"With no end in sight to the tinder-dry conditions, the best way to control scrub fires is to not light them at all but the message is still not getting out there."

Principal rural fire officer Northland Myles Taylor said the number of out-of-control rubbish fires were a concern given the total fire ban in place.

However, he said firefighters continued to educate people on the dangers of lighting rubbish fires rather than prosecuting them.

Referring to a callout at Motatau, 21km southwest of Kawakawa on Sunday, he said the owner of a house that burnt household rubbish didn't seemed to be concerned about the fire ban and the inconvenience to volunteer firefighters.

Last week, fire crews and several helicopters brought under control a large scrub fire consumed 4ha of native bush near the Te Rerenga Wairua carpark at Cape Reinga.