Fire crews worked overnight to contain a fire that threatened campers and baches at Karikari Beach and Maitai Bay, in the Far North.
The fire, which began at Karikari Beach, was first reported at approximately 5pm last night.
The blaze quickly spread through coastal scrubland, reaching the road and then jumping across into a paddock above Maitai Bay.
Approximately 60 campers had to be shifted down to the lower camping area at Maitai Bay, as smoke spread throughout the higher camping zone.
Principal Rural Fire Officer for the Northern Rural Fire District, Miles Taylor, says that it was excellent that fire crews were able to contain the fire before it spread further and damaged property. There is a house located in the paddock above Maitai Bay, and some baches above Karikari Beach.
Mr Taylor says the fire appears to be suspicious and is being investigated. He also expressed his concerns over the mounting toll that arson and nuisance fires are taking on Far North communities.
“In the past six years, fires started either deliberately, or as a result of carelessness, have cost ratepayers and taxpayers in Northland over 8 million dollars. That’s money you and I have contributed out of our hard-earned wage packets. And that doesn’t account for the loss of productivity through volunteer fire-fighters being called out from work, or DOC and council staff having to drop other tasks to respond to a fire,” Mr Taylor says.
But Mr Taylor’s greatest concern is that sooner or later, a wildfire may result in serious harm or death.
“We’ve been really lucky so far, but I think it’s only a matter of time. Wildfires can quickly spread into places where people are living, or recreating. I’m really worried about what will happen if we don’t get on top of this issue.”
Fire investigator, Kevin Ihaka has investigated a number of fires. He knows first-hand the damage careless and deliberately lit fires can cause.
He believes part of the solution is for communities to take more ownership of the issue.
“It’s our wellbeing that’s under threat, so it makes sense for us to all get involved,” he says.
Mr Ihaka says the messages are simple. Always check with Council or DOC if a fire ban is in place and whether a fire permit is required. Respect the rules, and if you notice anything suspicious, report it.
“Vehicles parked in remote places, or seeing someone near an area where a fire is later reported are things to look out for,” says Mr Ihaka. “If you see something suspicious, note it down and report it to the Police. It may be nothing, but then again you never know.”
Mr Ihaka recalls an arsonist in Whangarei being caught as a result of a woman noticing something suspicious and then reporting it to the Police.
Mr Taylor says that the Karikari/ Maitai Bay fire is one of the first blazes responded to under the newly formed Northern Rural Fire District. The Northern Rural Fire District is an amalgamation of rural fire authorities including DOC, Far North District Council, Forest Services and volunteer rural fire brigades. Under the new structure, all resources are pooled and called upon as required.
Karikari falls under Zone 1, which includes all land north of State Highway 10 from Taipa to Awanui, west of State Highway 1 between Awanui and Kaitaia, north and west of the Kaitaia- Awaroa Road and north of the Uwhiroa Stream and the Herekino Harbour. A fire permit is required at all times, unless there is a total fire ban in place.
Part of the role of the Northern Rural Fire District is to raise awareness of the risks wildfires pose, and how communities can help prevent them from happening.
“Rural fires are everyone’s issue because the cost falls on all of us,” says Mr Taylor.
Mr Taylor is passionate about getting the message out to communities to be proactive in reducing wildfires. However, one message remains the same.
“If you see smoke or flames call 111 immediately and ask for Fire.”