New Zealand — A fire which ripped through 15 hectares of conservation land came within metres of homes, forced the evacuation of Kerikeri airport and made a flight turn back just before landing.
The blaze started at the corner of Wiroa Rd and Waimate North Rd, 5km southwest of Kerikeri, about 3.30pm yesterday and quickly engulfed scrub and native bush bordering the Bay of Islands’ busiest airport.
The dense brown smoke cast a pall over the Kerikeri-Waipapa area.
An Air New Zealand plane due to land at 5pm circled the airport, then returned to Auckland.
Shortly afterwards the airport was evacuated, and the owners of aircraft in hangars along the grass runway started moving their planes to safety. Flames came within metres of the hangars, as well as homes on the other side of Waimate North Rd.
About 60 firefighters and eight appliances from volunteer brigades across the entire Mid North, as well as fire crews from the Far North District Council and the Department of Conservation, battled to stop the fire jumping the road or damaging airport buildings. There were also concerns for aviation fuel tanks.
About 4.30pm the heat was so intense fire commanders ordered their crews to withdraw while three helicopters doused the flames using monsoon buckets filled from airport hydrants.
Drifting embers started spot fires on the runway and in properties along Waimate North Rd.