A woman whose rubbish fire raged out of control near Department of Conservation (DOC) land at Haruru Falls may have to pay up to $60,000.
DOC is seeking costs from the woman after interviewing her this week.
Fanned by strong winds, Monday’s fire destroyed more than five hectares of bush before being brought under control by three helicopters and six fire crews – within 200m of a DOC walking track. “The property owner was burning domestic vegetation and the wind got up and caused it to get out of control,” DOC law enforcement officer Ross Atkinson said.
Under the Forest and Rural Fires Act, the department could recover costs when a fire erupted within a kilometre of DOC land, he said.
“We will be seeking recovery of costs. It was close to the DOC boundary.”
The final cost of putting the blaze out was still undetermined, but with three helicopters costing $1500 per hour and DOC, Fire Service and council staff fighting the blaze, it was expected to be between $30,000 and $60,000. “We will put our costs together and send an invoice,” Mr Atkinson said.
The woman who caused the blaze was “understandably upset”. “When (she) lit the fire there wasn’t a lot of wind about but the weather forecast was for strong winds. If the person had applied for a permit we wouldn’t have granted it because the fire was within an area of other vegetation and conditions weren’t favourable to having fires,” Mr Atkinson said.
The bush fire could have burned all the way to Paihia without intervention, he said.
“It started within 23m of the property owner’s house, so they placed their own property and a conservation area at risk. If the fire had continued with that wind behind it, without us containing it, it could have gone right through to Paihia.
“The message we want to get across is land owners within a kilometre of DOC-administered reserves or conservation areas are obliged to seek a permit before lighting any fires in the open. If we grant one we will certainly set conditions.”