Fire-fighting helicopters battle Waikato blaze

Fire-fighting helicopters battle Waikato blaze

28 December 2008

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New Zealand — Precious conservation land is going up in smoke as thousands of litres of water are poured on a fire in an effort contain the blaze.
“This is a highly significant wetland reserve,” says Department of Conservation Fire Officer Ian Imrie. “The fire has so far burnt about 35 hectares.”

The fire started late last night, but many locals were oblivious until daybreak.
“We woke up this morning and I though ‘we’ve got a thick fog’, but there was ash all over the house and the cars and everything,” explains neighbour Mick Welsh.

The Torehape Wetland is home to many endangered species and conservationists are worried just what impact the fire will have in the end.
Five helicopters are providing the only line of defence. It is too dangerous to send in ground crew, so air support is being relied on.
One of those helicopters is the biggest fire-fighting helicopter in the country. It can hold 2.5 tonnes of water per scoop.

On its first fire-fighting mission since being registered in the country, the K-Max helicopter spent much of the day dousing the blaze on the edge of James Clothier’s farm.
“Earlier on when the wind was coming from the south we were quite concerned the fire might jump on to our peat farm,” says Mr Clothier.

Locals have their suspicions as to how it was started.
“Well, from just talking to a few people in the area it sounds like arson,” says Mr Clothier. “It appears to be that.”

However, fire-fighters say it is far too early to know the cause.
They expect to be at the blaze for days.

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