‘Lives at risk’ as North’s total fire ban ignored

‘Lives at risk’ as North’s total fire ban ignored

12 February 2010

published by www.nzherald.co.nz

New Zealand —  Two people will be prosecuted for starting fires during Northland’s drought as the region’s firefighters struggle to cope with hundreds of callouts to scrub blazes this year.

There is a total fire ban across the whole of Northland but people are ignoring it and firefighters are worried that lives and homes could be lost.

Firefighters in the Far North alone have been called out to fight 132 scrub or vegetation fires since January 1. Another four scrub fires on Wednesday further stretched resources, with a large blaze at Kaimaumau burning more than 100ha and needing five helicopters and 10 fire trucks to battle the flames.

Far North principal rural fire officer Lance Johnston said the fire had got into peat bogs.

“We are going to have to have crews there for up to three weeks putting it out. It’s a huge drain on resources and at the same time there are fires at Ahipara and Pouto.”

Under the Forest and Rural Fire Act anyone found guilty of lighting a fire without a permit could face a maximum fine of $2000 or six months’ jail.

Mr Johnston said he had two prosecutions pending against people who were believed to have started fires but he had been too busy to issue the court action.

It is uncertain how a fire started in a forestry block near Rototuna, 42km southeast of Dargaville. Three helicopters dumped monsoon buckets of water over 2ha of burning debris and 30 firefighters gathered on the ground to control the fire.

Kaipara principal rural fire officer Fiona Vessey said there was highly flammable material at the site and firefighters surrounded a house, dampening down hotspots.

At Ahipara firefighters were on the scene early on Wednesday morning after what is thought to have been a deliberately lit blaze threatened to spread into old gumfields.

Kaitaia’s chief fire officer Colin Kitchen was frustrated that deliberate and careless acts wasted resources and tied up volunteer firefighters.

Thirty firefighters, 10 appliances and one helicopter were called in to extinguish the blaze.

Meanwhile, a fire that spread through pine trees and scrub at Ruakaka was thought to have been started by children.

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