Crews battling to dampen bushfires

Crews battling to dampen bushfires

4 February 2008

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New Zealand — The flames died but the danger remained at the scene of bush fires on conservation land over the weekend.

Department of Conservation firefighting crews had been battling fires that have blazed on seven fronts, at Aotuhia, 10km south-east of Whangamomona, since Thursday.

Taranaki flying ace Alan Beck was recruited by DOC to drop water from helicopters with monsoon buckets to help extinguish the flames.

The fires threatened the habitat of North Island brown kiwi, but it is not known if any kiwi died in the fires.

“We have just about got it, but there are little flare-ups all of the time,” Mr Beck said.

The total fire area covered 75 hectares and more than 140,000 litres of water a day was being dumped by two helicopters.

Flying high above the area searching for hot spots, smoke was still visible rising from large patches of charred bush.

Mr Beck said the countryside was the driest he’d seen for 30 years.

The monsoon buckets were lowered as close to the trees as possible before releasing the 112 tonnes of water in two seconds.

“The ground is so hot, so he is trying to get the water right in there so it runs down the hill,” he explained, as his son, David, dumped another 1500 litres on smouldering trees.

The load of liquid crashed through the blackened timber, snapping off branches and knocking trees over as it hit.

It was dangerous and challenging work, Mr Beck said.

“There are a lot of people around and you can’t always see them.”

DOC incident controller Les Stanley co-ordinated firefighting efforts from high on a ridge. He kept an eye out for flare-ups and checked the wind speed in the area.

“We’ve been running around like blue-eyed flies trying to contain it.

“You get one under control and another starts up.”

Mr Stanley, who has been working 16-hour days since the fire started, said there were three crews of five working yesterday and two crews of five hard at work on Saturday.

It was a dangerous environment to be in for fire crews, because tree roots had been burnt away and trees were falling down.

Burning embers were 600mm deep in places.

“On the first day we smashed all of the burnt stuff down, otherwise somebody would have got killed,” he said.

Mr Stanley said the helicopters were being used to reach sites ground crews could not access.

“All we can do is use Alan and David to keep a lid on them (fires) and get them under control.”

It was not sure how the fire started, but it was under investigation.

“It is costing a hell of a lot of money to fight,” Mr Stanley said.

He will remain at the scene until the fire is out.

“I can’t walk away until I’m 100 per cent sure it is out.”

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