23 Jan 2013

Great Barrier crew keeping eye on hotspots

9:24 pm on 23 January 2013

A skeleton crew of firefighters is working overnight at Great Barrier Island on Wednesday dampening down hotspots from a blaze that has burnt through about 110 hectares of land.

Helicopters with monsoon buckets and about 40 firefighters have been working to control the fire which began on Tuesday morning on the east of the island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Diggers have also excavated fire breaks to prevent it from spreading further. No property has been damaged and no-one has been injured.

The Rural Fire Service said on Wednesday night the blaze in swampy peat soil is contained and winds had eased.

The owner of a hire company close by, Neil Hodgetts, says the fire has been pretty scary with flames shooting 20 metres into the air at its peak.

"They've got it contained, but there's lots of hotspots that just keep flaring up because it's a lot of pine trees and peat and it's very dry here."

Mr Hodgetts says several of his employees are volunteer firefighters and all are tired.

Helicopters stopped flying when darkness fell, but a full operation will resume at 6am on Thursday with four rural fire crews from the Department of Conservation, Nelson and Rotorua stepping in to relieve local personnel.

Auckland Civil Defence spokesperson Glyn Walters said is not clear whether the fire is new or had flared up from an older blaze in the same area that started on Sunday.

The cause of the blaze is being investigated. The Fire Service said at present, residents need a permit to light fires.

Police will have extra officers on the island overnight on Wednesday, as there are only a few officers there normally.

Claris airfield has been affected by smoke and is closed to flights. Meanwhile, residents evacuated have returned to their homes.

Northland fire

About 80 firefighters are managing to contain a blaze that has spread across 200 hectares of scrub and pine in Northland.

The blaze broke out at at Pouto in Kaipara on Tuesday morning and continued to spread on Wednesday, burning through conservation wetlands.

The Department of Conservation believes the fire was started by people, but can't say yet whether it was deliberate or accidental. No homes are in danger.

North Island fire risk high

The fire risk for many areas in the North Island remains high, especially in Wairarapa, Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Northland.

The National Rural Fire Service said the soil is dry and there has been a build up of fuel after hot weather in those areas.

Hot dry weather is forecast for the next two weeks and National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield is urging people to remain cautious.

In the South Island, there is a fire risk around Christchurch and in Marlborough.

The Department of Conservation says people need to take extra care when using lighters to avoid any more devastating fires in dry areas of the country.

Spokesperson David Mules says improperly disposed cigarettes, burning of rubbish and the use of any equipment that generates sparks can be dangerous.