29 Jan 2019

Northland crews battle latest fire breakout amid heatwave

6:01 pm on 29 January 2019

A Northland landowner could face prosecution over a fire that threatened a pine plantation on his land.

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Firefighters have been battling multiple blazes in Northland over the past few days. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Fire crews have been sweltering in temperatures in the early 30C today as they fought to contain a fire on a farm block west of Whangārei.

There have been two fires in the Bay of Islands this week and crews are still damping down a fire that burned off 65 hectares at Horeke, west of Kaikohe yesterday.

The region's deputy chief rural fire officer, Rory Renwick, said three days ago the landowner began burning off a big pile of slash or forestry waste, without applying for a council permit.

In today's searing heat the fire escaped, he said.

"In this case his fire was unpermitted... had we had a chance to look at it [beforehand] we would have identified some of the risks and helped the person manage it and probably suggested they wait a couple of months till things are getting wetter, rather than drier," Mr Renwick said.

There was a potential to prosecute the landowner, who could be held liable for costs up to $300,000.

The principal rural fire officer, Myles Taylor, said the blaze could have spread to a pine plantation.

"It looks like it's in long grass, in pampas, heading into forestry... so we've got two helicopters working on it and we're looking at deploying more resources to make sure we catch it," he said.

The pine plantation was safe for now but fire crews would have to stay at the scene for two days to make sure the fire was completely out, Mr Renwick said.

A total fire ban came into force across the region at midnight last night and Northland fire crews were braced for the the most intense fire season in about six years, Mr Taylor said.

Councils from the Far North to Kaipara would not be issuing any permits for outdoor fires until the ban was lifted, and that was unlikely to be any time soon, he said.

There had been almost no rain in Northland since before Christmas and the entire region was tinder-dry.

"At the moment, just don't even consider having a fire outside or fireworks - we've had several [fires] start from fireworks," Mr Taylor said.

"It's just not appropriate, the ground conditions and vegetation are so dry that any small spark can catch and we're chasing a big wildfire."