Fire sweeps hillside behind beach town

Fire sweeps hillside behind beach town

16 January 2008

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New Zealand — Thirty-five firefighters and a helicopter were needed to bring a bush fire under control at Whakatane yesterday.

The fire swept across a hillside behind the town, quickly igniting tinder-dry scrub and trees in an 80 sq m area.

The blaze is believed to have been started by sparks from a nearby workshop where disc-grinding machinery was being used outside.

It was the eighth fire Whakatane firefighters have dealt with since Saturday, the other seven the result of out-of-control rubbish fires and burn-offs.

Whakatane fire chief Ken Clark said he was tired of giving warnings about the danger of sparks and lighting fires, particularly in the current hot, dry conditions.

“People never seem to learn,” he said.

Yesterday’s fire, which began at 3pm, had the potential to spread and threaten people and private properties, he said .

“Absolutely breathless” conditions were the only reason it had not spread further.

“This one could have been a real nightmare if it got away.”

Ohope senior firefighter Steve Gee said the flames had been visible on the road between Whakatane and Ohope at the height of the blaze.

Ohope firefighters were not officially on alert but Mr Gee said they were always concerned when there was a large fire in the area because of the number of houses on hillsides in the two beach towns.

He said in the current conditions “even a glass bottle” could start a fire.

The fire covered a steep, rocky area, making it difficult for firefighters on the ground to extinguish all the flames.

A helicopter was called in to reach inaccessible areas, dropping 15 bucketloads of water, each containing 1300 litres.

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