22 Dec 2021

Kaimaumau residents allowed home again after fire

9:22 am on 22 December 2021

Residents evacuated from the Far North township of Kaimaumau are being allowed back home.

Northland Kaimaumau fire as seen from Reef Lodge Motel in Rangiputa

Photo: Supplied / Reef Lodge Motel

Civil Defence and Fire and Emergency New Zealand representatives told residents they could return from 10am. The news was met with cheers and clapping at this morning's briefing.

The 2000ha blaze north of Kaitaia threatened to reach Kaimaumau, forcing an evacuation on Sunday night.

Flames near the town had settled by yesterday, and emergency responders were waiting for results from thermal camera imaging overnight before deciding if they could return.

Fire crews were able to do a controlled burn thanks to favourable weather conditions yesterday, and the fire remained the same size.

They widened a firebreak to 20m, and also moved flammable objects and closed windows at evacuated residents' homes in case of an ember storm.

Fire and Emergency Northland district manager Wipari Henwood earlier Morning Report better than expected weather yesterday allowed crews to made good progress building up fire defences.

A predicted wind shift would push the blaze towards northern fire barriers where there were a small number of homes, he said. "But we were able to do a lot of that work yesterday and we've got ground crews who were able to access that northern boundary."

Kaimaumau is home to the only remaining freshwater wetland in Te Tai Tokerau greater than a 1000 hectares, which is inhabited by dozens of endangered species.

Most of the area that was burned this week was around the wetland and neighbouring forests.

A peat fire was inspected and found to not be as bad as initially feared, as the peat had holes full of water near it.

Fire and Emergency and Department of Conservation staff members who went to examine the area both came out black from smoke and wet to the waist.

Campers will not be welcomed to the area this summer, as a sign forbidding camping near the coastal village is set to be installed today.

It's thought keeping campers away will decrease the risk of further fires, and reduce the number of people who might need to be evacuated.

Police told evacuated residents at a briefing last night they would be manning the checkpoint into the town overnight, and would be keeping an eye on a couple of families who had not evacuated. They said some people sneaked down through a beach on Monday night, but this had been sorted out.

Officials also said they had begun talking to households further up the beach where some people were beginning to get nervous.

People they had visited in Pukenui, about 20km away, were reporting difficulties breathing.

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