2 Jan 2023

Firefighters battle blaze sparked by fireworks and threatening homes

3:45 pm on 2 January 2023
Crews were called out to tackle the blaze overnight.

Crews were called out to tackle the blaze overnight. Photo: Supplied / ODT

A neighbour of a large private New Year's Eve fireworks display near Queenstown is glad he moved his animals away in advance after a big fire erupted in that area.

Neighbours petitioned against the fireworks display planned by property owner and millionaire Tony Malkin, because of the risk to their animals.

Fire and Emergency says a blaze in Dalefield last night, which they believe was started by fireworks, involved three separate fires burning in tussock on steep terrain.

They say it was contained by about 2.30am.

Resident John Quinn said he spent all day yesterday moving his horses to Southland, and saw the fire unfold on social media.

"We saw that there were various neighbours posting issues of fire coming over the hill and various people, there are videos of people fearfully watching the fire and wondering how long it was going to go on.

"We had our fire crews leaving from Southland and heading up to support the fire crews up there."

Quinn said he feels sorry for his Dalefield neighbours, who had a panicked night.

Resident Liz Park told the Otago Daily Times she gave up her own New Year's Eve party to spend the evening with her 18-year-old horse Louie, and was distressed by how upset he became during the fireworks and the subsequent fire.

"I wish I could have a photo for you of the horse's eyes. They were bulging out of his head,'' she said.

A rural Queenstown woman said she spent New Year's Eve in her horse float, to keep away from the fire.

Dalefield resident Daniela Schneider said she left the area with her horse and waited for the fire to stop.

Calls reported around country

Nationally, Fire and Emergency received more than 40 calls on New Year's Eve, an increase on previous years.

Spokesperson Adrian Nacey said the main issue was fireworks causing vegetation to catch fire.

"So this has been a particularly busy night for us which is really disappointing - all of these fires are completely avoidable and it's just too hot, it's too dry and it's too windy for people to be setting off fireworks at this time of year.

"I think people perhaps don't understand the danger that these fireworks create and how difficult these fires can be to bring under control once they're started."

He said people needed to check the conditions before lighting fires or setting off fireworks, and if it was hot, dry or windy, to not do so.

Other fireworks blazes

Meanwhile, fire crews are continuing to battle a large scrub fire at Mahurangi East - one of several around the country being blamed on New Year's Eve fireworks.

Fire and Emergency said they have been at the scene of the blaze since 11pm yesterday in an effort to keep the fire away from reaching nearby homes.

A spokesperson said it was the most serious of several fires throughout the North Island, all caused by fireworks or bonfires.

Two crews remain at the scene with the fire now contained.

Fire and Emergency said crews responded to several fire calls from about 10.30pm onwards on New Year's Eve.

While the total number has not been tallied, at any one time there were up to 15 incidents being dealt with simultaneously, and they were caused by either fireworks, bonfires or campfires, a spokesperson said.

By 2am there were still seven fires related to New Year's Eve activities underway across the country.

Communications Centre shift manager Murray Dunbar said the number and scale of incidents overnight was a reminder that fireworks posed a high fire risk and had to be used responsibly and sensibly.

"Fire and Emergency has been saying this for a long time. People using fireworks have to look at the conditions - things like wind and the proximity to material that can catch fire easily. If the conditions aren't right, then don't light."

Fire and Emergency encourages people to go to planned public fireworks displays where work has gone into making the area safe.

In the South Island, many of the fires were reported to be in areas that were difficult to access and some were likely to require helicopters after daybreak.

Among the most serious was one at Marahau in the Tasman District, where two homes had to be evacuated. Firefighters were working to protect the houses from a vegetation fire reported to be in difficult terrain. Nine crews were working on the fire at 2.30am.

Fire on New Year's Eve 2022 at Old Macdonald's Farm Holiday Park in Marahau

This blaze at Old Macdonald's Farm Holiday Park in Marahau in the Tasman District last night led to two homes being evacuated. Photo: Supplied

At another fire scene near Queenstown many campers were forced to leave their campsite because of a blaze firefighters could not reach with their equipment.

It broke out at an old school site in the remote Skippers reserve. Fire trucks were unable to reach it because of weight restrictions on the only access road. Fire and Emergency said some campers managed to put it out and its staff intended checking it was fully extinguished.

Other South Island incidents included:

  • A large blaze at Dalefield near Arrowtown, reported to have been started by fireworks and involving three separate fires burning in tussock on steep terrain. By 2.30am the fire had been contained to an estimated 1.2ha and firefighters were working to reinforce the perimeter
  • At Aramoana near Dunedin, a fire was burning on a cliff face, reported to be about the size of a football field, and growing. Five crews were still at the scene at 2.30am and a team was trying to access the scene from the top of the cliff so they could assess the situation.

North Island incidents included:

  • A large blaze at Puhoi where eight crews were still working at 1.30am. Most of the firefighters had to reach the firefront on foot because the fire trucks could not drive to the site
  • Two crews extinguished a vegetation fire in Oriental Bay, in Wellington, which was briefly escalated to second alarm level before being scaled back
  • In Tauranga, three crews were called to deal with a fire in the roof of a house, reportedly ignited by fireworks
  • A fire on the roof of the civic administration building in Palmerston North and another where seats in Edwards Pit park were ablaze, both reportedly caused by fireworks
  • A fire close to a house in Kelston reportedly caused by fireworks
  • A grass fire in New Plymouth reportedly caused by fireworks

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs