Introduction

Recent rain at Mahia allowed workers dousing hot spots from the fire that started on 1 February to go home, but DOC staff are monitoring the area.

Date:  17 February 2009

Recent rain at Mahia has allowed workers dousing hot spots from the fire that started on 1 February to pack up and go home, but Department of Conservation (DOC) staff are still monitoring the area. Principal Rural Fire Officer, Trevor Mitchell of DOC said today that a thermal image scan on Monday morning had revealed no hot spots remaining in the fire area. 

“Rain since Thursday wet surface organic fuels but in places there was poor penetration of soils so local staff are continuing to monitor the site. We ask local people to please phone 111 if they see any smoke or sign of flames,” Mr Mitchell said.

“We would also like to thank local people for their support of the fire crews who worked at Mahia. Fire-fighters need good food to sustain long hours of strenuous work and they were all more than happy with the food and accommodation at Mahia. We had numerous donations that really helped us concentrate on attacking the fire. Cake, kina and koura stand out as some of the special local contributions to the effort.”

Fire fighting staff were provided by a number of agencies including Gisborne and Wairoa District Councils, local forestry companies, NZ Fire Service and the National Rural Fire Authority. DOC supplied crews from East Coast Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Waikato and Bay of Plenty Conservancies. The fire-fighting effort is believed to have cost approximately $600,000. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but not believed to be suspicious.

The Mahia fire started on land adjacent to a former YMCA camp on the afternoon of Sunday 1 February. High temperatures and strong winds caused rapid spread through very dry vegetation and deep-seated burning down into the root systems of old pine trees. Due to concerns about possible rapid spread of the fire, New Zealand Police organised evacuation of local residents. The fire was contained by the morning of Tuesday, 3 February and evacuees allowed to return to their homes.

A holiday house, boat, ute, two caravans, sheds and fences on four properties were damaged by the fire. It also destroyed one large building and five chalets in a youth camp. It is estimated that work of fire-fighters in controlling spread of the blaze saved twenty homes from destruction. The fire covered an area of 140 hectares.

As manager of land within one kilometre of the ignition site, DOC was the lead fire-fighting agency. Areas of ecological value damaged by the fire included Jobson’s Swamp Wildlife Management Reserve, managed by DOC, and the Opoutama Wetland, owned by the NZ Native Forests Restoration Trust. The area provides important wildlife habitat for birds such as Australasian bittern, spotless crake, NZ scaup, banded rail and fernbird. 

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