Northland township threatened by massive scrub fire

2:30 pm on 20 December 2021

Thirty families in a Far North township will spend the day evacuated as fire and emergency attempt to hold off a 2000-hectare scrub fire.

A 600-hectre blaze is threaterning the Far North township of Kaimaumau.

A blaze is threatening the Far North township of Kaimaumau. Photo: Supplied/Mary-Jane Hoult

Kaimaumau residents spent last night in a school after they were evacuated because of a massive scrub fire surging nearby and this afternoon they were preparing to spend another night out of their homes.

Today, there are nine helicopters in the air and crews and heavy machinery on the ground fighting the blaze.

Fire and Emergency Services started the evacuation of the small town of Kaimaumau about 8pm yesterday evening, with everyone out by 11pm.

A change of wind direction and heavy dew has meant the spread of the fire slowed significantly overnight, but it is still burning out of control on Department of Conservation land.

Fire and Emergency Northland district manager Wipari Henwood told Morning Report a strong northerly wind forecast for this afternoon will make things tougher.

Henwood confirmed no homes were damaged overnight.

He said they have today increased crew capacity to utilise nine helicopters and four ground crews to get the blaze under control.

Henwood said they have also brought in a specialist structural protection team to protect homes in the town.

Northland Kaimaumau fire as seen from Reef Lodge Motel in Rangiputa

Kaimaumau fire as seen from Reef Lodge Motel in Rangiputa. Photo: Supplied / Reef Lodge Motel

Unusual weather conditions for this time of year had slightly hampered the fire service's ability to reach points of the blaze, he said.

"It's really swampy so gaining access to the actual fireline has been difficult which is just another problem for us," Henwood said.

Increased fire activity was expected today, particularly around the 'witching hour' between 3pm and 4pm, which Henwood said is the most dangerous time for fires.

Despite the tough terrain, high winds had been the biggest contributor to the spread of the fire, he said.

Earlier today, Far North mayor John Carter told Morning Report that the fire had expanded dramatically overnight with fire services estimating it could have tripled in size.

"It could be as much as 1800 hectares, it's now moving closely to the village and FENZ are concerned at the possible wind that might come up this afternoon so the village has been told they are to remain evacuated today."

He said residents would be briefed on the situation later

Carter has visited the school evacuation centre at Waiharara and said the 30 families there are being given food and are well settled.

"There didn't seem to be any issues, people are obviously concerned with their homes but all in all it was well run, settled and people were well-focused and helping each other," Carter said.

He said there were worries about the northerly wind expected today, but he is confident there are enough resources to hand to fight the blaze.

"We'll do our best to be ahead of the [wind] but the guys are working their butts off so hopefully we can get it contained before that blows up on us."

"The irony is that it's a swamp area which normally at this time of year is dry and it's now wet as and it's actually prevented us from getting in there on foot that's why we've got the helicopters here."

He confirmed Kaimaumau is the only town being threatened by the fire and commended the efforts the local fire services had made in difficult conditions.

With the wind expected to switch around again tomorrow, Carter said the fire may provide challenges for several days yet.

Meanwhile across the bay in Rangiputa, Reef Lodge Motel manager Lesley McCormick said the fire spread fiercely after a wind change.

She said ash and burnt debris have been dropping on the beach and residents have all windows closed.

They have been advised to disconnect their water tanks.

Northland Kaimaumau fire as seen from Reef Lodge Motel in Rangiputa

Photo: Supplied / Reef Lodge Motel

Northland Kaimaumau fire as seen from Reef Lodge Motel in Rangiputa

Photo: Supplied / Reef Lodge Motel