New Zealand — Fire still threatens after leaving a 200ha swathe of smoking destruction through Maringi Forest at Bideford following a wind change that sprang the inferno back to life.
“If we had a change like we did the day before, the fire would be off again. It’s still not out,” said rural fire chief, Phil Wishnowsky.
The blaze at the 600ha block, owned by the Anglican Schools Forestry Trust, has been burning now for three full days and nights.
About 20 fire fighters and two helicopters with monsoon buckets remained on high alert from dusk yesterday to guard against another surprise outbreak of flame, he said, and fire crews are to stay on watch for at least another two to three days.
“We had it under control and contained there wasn’t any smoke – but a wind change blew it all back up. There were crowning runs, understory runs and sub-surface burning.”
Understory fire consumes the lower vegetation and soil cover, he said, and sub-surface fire smoulders below ground.
Crown fires leap from treetop to treetop at up to 100 metres a minute – after travelling up the trunks of the trees, he said.
“The heat was intense. Nothing could have survived where it burned.”
At least 50 volunteer and paid fire fighters and four helicopters battled the blaze yesterday that had peaked from the early morning into the afternoon, Mr Wishnowsky said.
Flames had been reported as leaping almost 15 metres above the tallest trees at the height of the blaze he said, in a spectacular show of devastation that burned just as fiercely until noon yesterday.
A light fall of overnight rain on Wednesday night had almost no effect on the blaze, he said.
A 24-hour roster of up to 100 people have been fighting the fire, dampening hot-spots, and cutting fire breaks alongside two bulldozers once a spot had been cleared of flame, he said.
The pine forest block has about 300 trees each hectare and covers a steep and hilly area accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles and quad bikes, he said.
There had been a large amount of ground vegetation, he said, and dry branches left from earlier thinning work.The location of the block had made work difficult and dangerous for the fire crews and the abundant ‘available fuel load’ had significantly added to the intensity of the fire, he said.
An investigation into the cause of the fire will start once it is completely extinguished, Mr Wishnowsky said, although he understood forestry crews had been working with chainsaws in the forest block when the fire first broke out on Tuesday morning.