6 Jan 2020

Firefighters battle forestry block blaze north of Napier

8:06 pm on 6 January 2020

A large forestry fire north of Napier has grown 10 times in size since it erupted today just before the afternoon.

Fire and Emergency shift commander Murray Dunbar said about 65 firefighters, 11 trucks, an aeroplane, and up to six helicopters were at the scene on Tangoio Settlement Rd, north of Napier.

Dunbar said the fire was a safe distance away from State Highway 2.

A spokesperson said fire was still not under control and crews continue to protect nearby buildings. They say pine and cutover from remnants of forestry work are fuelling the fire.

The fire was reported at about 11.40am, has spread through about 140 hectares of steep forestry land. Strong winds have been creating spot fires moving ahead of the fire front.

Hawke's Bay principal rural fire officer Trevor Mitchell said the fire was still spreading.

"We've got one structure - one home, that we are providing protection for, but it's not immediately affected at the moment.

"We've got seven helicopters and a fixed wing fire bomber working on it, but windy conditions are making it very very difficult for them to make any headway."

Mitchell said strong winds were likely to keep fanning the Tangoio fire after dark, and steep terrain was causing problems.

MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray said much of the east coast of the North Island, and down to Timaru was very dry, and heavy Westerly winds at Napier were creating bad conditions for firefighting.

"The main issue is the wind, we have a strong wind warning out for Hawke's Bay south of Napier, and we could see gusts of 120[km/h] in exposed places, and some places have seen quite strong gusts already.

"For fires it is pushing them. On our satellite imagery you can see a bit of smoke from one of those fires just pushing out to the ocean to the east. It's nothing like Australia, but it's certainly significant if we can pick it up on satellite."

Mason Summerfield is at Waipatiki Beach, a few kilometres away from the Tongoio fire. He said the smoke was thick and clouding the sun.

"You can see quite clearly helicopters with monsoon buckets, and the sky is going a bit of a yellowy orange colour," Summerfield said.

"You can smell smoke pretty strong, to be honest. It's not coughing level, but you can definitely smell and taste it."

Napier fire as seen from Tangoio Marae.

Napier fire as seen from Tangoio Marae. Photo: Supplied / Diana Taunoa

He said the wild fires raging in Australia were top of mind for people at Waipatiki Beach, but they were confident the fire would not threaten property or people at the beach.

"The benefit that we've got is it's very green here," he said.

"Even though it's a beautiful sunny spot, we get rain fairly frequently, so it's very green. It is worrying, but nobody's concerned about properties where we are."

Meanwhile, another large fire in the Fernhill area, north west of Hastings, has now been extinguished.

The scrub fire area was near State Highway 50 and the Ngaruroro River.

Dunbar said when the fire was reported it was about 40 square metres, but strong winds had fanned it out larger.

A fifth helicopter, that had been fighting the Tangoio fire, had been diverted to the Fernhill fire, and five crews battled the blaze.

Further south, State Highway 1 has reopened between Bulls and Hunterville, after another scrub fire caused it shut earlier this afternoon.

Dunbar said the small fire was close to both the highway and railway lines, and was mostly extinguished, but firefighters were dampening the vegetation down to make sure it was out.

"We're still there, we've got water coming in from Marton to help."

The bushfire jumped the railway tracks and spread into a neighbouring farm.

Farm owner Sarah Marshall said there were huge gusts of wind about 2pm before the power went off, and she could smell smoke.

She said the road verge between the highway, railway and the farm was alight, and quickly jumped the tracks into the farm taking off with the wind.

"There were three fire engines and it had just taken off - and then with the wind so strong, it's still really strong - it then jumped the railway line and then it went down in through the creek and then has come up onto the farm," she said.