Habitat destroyed

Habitat destroyed

24 March 2010

published by www.stuff.co.nz

New Zealand —   A Scrub fire that forced the evacuation of Kerikeri Airport and nearby homes last week destroyed a unique gumland habitat that is home to threatened species.

The Conservation Department estimates that more than 50 of the 68 hectares of Wiroa conservation area on the airport’s western boundary was razed by the fire on Wednesday.

It was started by arcing powerlines.

Department spokesman Adrian Walker says a threatened species of mudfish found only at the airport and Ngawha may have avoided the fire because it goes underground during summer.

“They have survived in numerous habitats for thousands of years, so there is hope for them.”

But mudfish in peat areas t may not have been so fortunate.

“The fire could have been deep-seated, but only time will tell what damage has been done to the mudfish population.

“It is possible that threatened Australasian bittern and North Island fernbird at the reserve escaped the blaze,” says Mr Walker.

“Birds might have been able to vacate the area, because the fire wasn’t moving fast.”

A more likely victim of the fire is the Northland green gecko, whose numbers are declining.

“The fire has cleaned off any biodiversity at ground level.”

Airport owner Far North Holdings is thankful the fire didn’t damage airport buildings, despite flames coming within metres of hangars and sheds.

“We evacuated three planes and moved about 50 cars in the long-term storage car park as a precaution,” says chief executive Malcolm Nicolson.

He praises fire-fighters who battled the blaze, which forced one flight to return to Auckland and the cancellation of two others.

“The fire crews and DOC did an absolutely magnificent job of containing the fire on the boundary of the airport.”

The New Zealand Fire Service says it took four helicopters with monsoon buckets, 10 fire appliances and 50 firefighters on the ground seven hours to bring the blaze under control.

“There was potential danger to nearby homes but in the end we had the appliances and the manpower to control it,” says volunteer support officer Colin Kitchen.

Final costs will include $40,000 for helicopter services, he says. “We couldn’t have stopped the fire without them.”

Top Energy is investigating why routine maintenance caused 33,000 volt powerlines on the corner of Wiroa and Waimate North roads to arc and drop molten copper which ignited scrub below.

Chief executive Russell Shaw says it appears from first reports that a linesman followed correct procedures.

“Switching of this type is an everyday occurrence throughout New Zealand. However, there’s always a risk that flashes like this can occur,” he says.


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