Date: 20 March 2019
The fire was spotted from the ridge tops surrounding the hut by a member of the public who noticed smoke. They rang emergency services, which then alerted DOC.
Immediate discussions established that there were no obvious smoke columns visible in the greater valley and therefore no major wild fire threat to the area.
DOC investigations have subsequently found several areas of burnt tussock on Grassy Flat.
Nicole Kunzmann, Operations Manager Hokitika, says: “Luckily, the tussock that was lit did not provide enough fuel for the fires to spread, otherwise there could have been serious consequences for other trampers, species in the area including the endangered whio/blue duck, the hut and the landscape.
“Thanks to responsible members of the public, DOC was quickly alerted and able to monitor the situation.”
The risk of wildfire in the backcountry at this time of year is high. DOC takes these risks very seriously and will prosecute if sufficient evidence can be obtained.
It is an offence under the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017 to knowingly or recklessly light a fire in open air without a fire permit, if a restricted or prohibited season has been declared or if a prohibition on the lighting of fires in open air is in place in an area.
“Often people who light fires deliberately, aren’t thinking about the consequences,” says Fire and Emergency NZ Manager Fire Investigation and Arson Reduction Peter Wilding. “If convicted of an offence, an individual could face up to two years in prison, or a fine not exceeding $300,000, or both.
“We’d like to also remind people that these fires are not victimless. These actions have a huge detrimental effect on people, animals, and the landscape,” says Mr Wilding.
“Beyond the potential damage to backcountry infrastructure such as huts, there’s also a huge impact on the terrain, plants and wildlife. Farming stock can be at risk, depending on the location, and fires in the backcountry will almost certainly destroy the local habitat of wildlife – many of which are endangered, such as whio.”
Contact your local DOC office if you see any suspicious activity occurring in the backcountry and the Hokitika DOC office if you have any further information on the Grassy Flat fires.
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