20 Mar 2010

Airport praises fire crews' quelling of blaze

8:16 pm on 20 March 2010

The company that owns the Bay of Islands Airport, which was threatened by a major scrub fire, is praising emergency services for their work.

The 80-hectare blaze near Kerikeri, started by a spark from work on power lines on Wednesday afternoon, moved quickly due to the dry conditions.

Far North Holdings chairman Tony Norman says there was potential for the fire to escalate and cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

He says the airport escaped damage because of the bravery and professionalism of local authorities and the fire service.

"The hangars from which the private aircraft vacated were quite close to the fire," Mr Norman says, "but the emergency people managed to keep it sufficiently away that we didn't even end up blistering the paint on the wall."

He says four helicopter pilots spent about seven hours bombarding the flames with monsoon buckets of water, despite smoke from the blaze making it hard for them to see.

Power company Top Energy says work on one its lines was the cause of the fire, which cut electricity to thousands of residents when it threatened two power lines supplying the area.

Top Energy says the fire was sparked by spots of molten copper that fell to the ground while one of its linesmen was switching a 33,000-volt overhead line switch.