Coromandel residents flee bushfire

Coromandel residents flee bushfire

4 January 2007

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Fireworks are being blamed for causing a bushfirewhich threatened to engulf houses at the Coromandel Peninsula settlement ofHahei overnight.

New Zealand — An estimated 15 homes were evacuated as firefighters and ninefire appliances from as far away as Tauranga were brought in to fight the firewhich started shortly before 10pm.

A helicopter with a monsoon bucket was also used from 1.30am today.

Eyewitnesses said flames rose up to 15m and got to within 300m of houses.

Access to nearby scenic spot Cathedral Cove was closed and was likely to berestricted for at least 24 hours.

A fire service spokesman said the fire appeared to have been started byfireworks let off on the beach.

“It moved its way up from the scrub line threatening homes on TutaritariRd,” he said.

Police evacuated residents from their homes at the northern end of thecommunity.

John Cocks, from Pukekohe, who was staying in the camping ground, said somefriends of his children saw people earlier in the night letting off fireworks inthe direction of the bush.

“Those guys will have a guilty conscience.”

Mr Cocks estimated the fire got to within 300m of houses.

“The flames probably would have been 40-50 feet into the air and it wasspreading quite quickly.”

Mr Cocks said fire alarms had been going “every second night” sincehe’d been there. “It was probably only a matter of time.”

Inspector Turepu Keenan, of the northern communications centre, saidWhitianga police had closed access to Cathedral Cove for at least 24 hours.

Jono Gould, 18, from Christchurch, who was staying at his family’s bach onTutaritari Rd, said about 15 homes were evacuated.

He first found out about the fire when he was driving into Hahei about10.45pm.

“I was driving back . . . coming over the hill there was a massive plumeof orange smoke.”

He said the fire looked “pretty threatening”.

“You could just see it creeping and creeping and creeping.”

He and his family watched it from the balcony of their house for about 45minutes before the police told them to leave about 11.45pm.

Most people went to stay with friends or at the local community centre.

Despite having to leave their houses, people did not panic, he said.

“There was no one running around screaming or anything like that.

“It was more just a spectacle. Even though the fire was there you kindof got the impression it was never going to get any bigger.

“I just grabbed my jersey and my cellphone. It wasn’t that kind ofemergency.”

Mr Gould said about 300 people gathered on the beach to watch the fire.

Karen Perry, owner-operator of Pukeko Expresso cafe on Grange Rd, which wascordoned off, said the fire was noisy and came down in two fronts like “lavapouring down a rock”.

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