New Tealand — The massive scrub fire that raged out of control south of Invercargill on Thursday was finally tamed by lunchtime yesterday, helped by the welcome arrival of cool weather and rain.
By 11.30am yesterday the flames were gone and firefighters were left keeping an eye on hot spots.
Left behind was 1322ha of charred, mainly Department of Conservation, land an area 16 and a half times the size of Invercargill’s Queens Park.
The fire, which flared from the day-old embers of a farmer’s burn-off in Awarua, was first reported at 11.30am on Thursday and by 2pm had blazed through a significant wetland area, driven by strong northerly winds. By nightfall it had burned to the edge of Awarua Bay.
It then jumped the bay to burn Joey’s Island.
Southern Rural Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Mike Grant said the fire was deemed “under control and contained” by Thursday night. But even then it crept through another 200ha as a ground crew kept an overnight vigil.
Also keeping a wary eye on the fire overnight were the residents of Tiwai Rd, where evacuation plans were in place in case the flames threatenedhouses.
Resident Des Arnold said he had been up at 3am yesterday morning when flames several metres high were lapping his property. The fire burned some young trees at the back of his farm but fortunately it went no further, he said.
The six helicopters, recruited from as far afield as Te Anau, Queenstown, Tuatapere and Nokomai Station, that fought the fire with monsoon buckets on Thursday were stood down that night and resumed work ferrying ground crews in from 6am yesterday. By 11.30am the helicopters were sent home, with the exception of two kept on standby.
Mr Grant said two ground crews operated at separate parts of the site to dig out hot spots of peat. That work went on throughout the day and was expected to continue today.
The cooler weather had improved the situation, he said.
“The wind has swung round to the south-west and, while it is still strong at about 37kmh, the temperature has also dropped and the humidity is up as light rain is falling. These factors have helped to reduce the fire threat.”
As the “mop-up” phase began, so too did work to tally up the overall operation cost.
Mr Grant said it would take at least two weeks to prepare a report on the fire and until that was completed it was too early to say who should meet the costs.
Estimates so far put flying time at more than $120,000.
About 500 man hours were spent fighting the fire and about $5000 spent on a fire suppressant, which was added to the water to help contain the fire.
Mr Grant did not think the overall bill would top $350,000.
He described the vegetation in the wetland as a volatile mixture of scrubby bush that fuelled the fire.
Yesterday, was 19 years to the day since a 1986 fire ripped through another section of the Awarua wetlands, burning 1360ha. That fire was believed to have started after a car hit a transformer pole.