Helicopter firefighting bill may hit $100,000

Helicopter firefighting bill may hit $100,000

14 February 2010

published by www.northernadvocate.co.nz

New Zealand — The bill for a helicopter to extinguish a suspicious fire in the Far North could reach $100,000.

A blaze scorched some 107ha of farmland and Department of Conservation reserve at Kaimaumau after the fire started about midday on Wednesday.

Five helicopters were called in – but at a cost.

Far North principal rural fire officer Lance Johnston said the last helicopter was stood down yesterday after officials were satisfied the fire had been contained.

“I would suggest the cost for the helicopters would be closer to $100,000 than $60,000. Once you have helicopters up in the air the till starts running up quickly, especially with five in the sky,” Mr Johnston said.

A spate of wildfires has a Far North District Council member – who is also a senior firefighter – worried about what it will mean for the district’s ratepayers.

At Thursday’s meeting, Cr Colin Kitchen said most rural firefighting costs were refunded by the national fire fund.

“But with helicopters costing $2000 an hour, I’m still worried about the financial implications – and it’s going on and on. I’m just hoping it’s not going to come out of ratepayers’ pockets.”

A 100-hectare fire at Waimaumau on Wednesday, for example, had needed five helicopters to bring under control.

Far North Mayor Wayne Brown asked the council’s chief executive to keep him informed of the costs to council, “but there’s not a lot we can do about it”.

Cr Kitchen is also Kaitaia’s Chief Fire Officer and the volunteer support officer for Northland.

He said 42 firefighters were still dousing the deep-seated fire that had ignited peat about 50cm below the surface at Kaimaumau.

Mr Johnston said the wind had picked up late yesterday, however, the fire border had been established.

Fire officials described the task ahead as a “long hard slog”.

Mr Johnston said the only way to extinguish the burning peat was to use peat probes and inject water into the earth.

He expected the job to take at least two weeks.

Water had been pumped from a nearby estuary through 2.5km of reticulated hoses and portable dams.

Meanwhile, fire investigators at Poutu say a fire that burned through a logging block was suspicious. Dargaville police are investigating the blaze that started on Wednesday.

Kaipara Principal Fire Officer Fiona Vessey said crews remained overnight and a decision would be made late today as to whether they would be stood down tonight.

“It’s disappointing to find out it was deliberately lit. I don’t understand why people would do this and put other people’s lives at risk,” Mrs Vessey said.

The community had got behind the fire crews at the scene and the local supermarket had donated water and bananas to the teams. “It’s been a community effort to get us over the line.”

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