Big blaze in Far North

A huge fire at Taheke, in South Hokianga, is likely to take days and cost tens of thousands of dollars to put out.

The blaze started about 12.30pm yesterday near Taheke Rd and quickly tore through more than 30ha of tinder-dry scrub and manuka, threatening homes and a pine plantation. Native bush also went up in flames.

Four helicopters fought the fire with monsoon buckets filled at a nearby pond, backed up by ground crews from Kaikohe and Kerikeri.

A towering column of brown smoke could be seen across the Mid North.

The fire started in the same area as a massive blaze four years earlier and where vegetation had only recently started to recover.

The cause is still being investigated but a rubbish fire or arson are the likely culprits.

The blaze comes just two days after the Far North's rural fire boss ramped up fire restrictions and issued a stern warning that firefighters would respond to every report of smoke, and send every fire starter a bill for putting it out.

Deputy principal rural fire officer Lance Johnston said firefighters were trying to contain today's blaze by attacking its head and flanks. Their priority was to stop the fire crossing Moehau Rd into a pine forest.

A bulldozer and digger were brought in later in the day to cut a series of fire breaks.

It was likely that firefighters would have to stay for several days. Their best hope was that the cyclone forecast to hit Northland this weekend would dump enough rain to put it out, Mr Johnston said.

Just half an hour later another fire threatened Taheke's Mahuri Marae, a few kilometres away on Ramsey Rd.

That fire was relatively small but started in bamboo and scrub right next to the marae's outbuildings. Firefighters from Kaikohe, Okaihau and Rawene, aided by a helicopter diverted from the Taheke Rd blaze, stopped the flames a few metres from the whare kai.

Elder Mike Harris said the marae was hugely grateful to the firefighters and helicopter crew, as well as the locals who had helped with buckets and hoses.

The cause of that fire was unclear. A group of community workers had been cutting scrub in the area but had departed at least an hour earlier.

Already busy brigades were further stretched by a third vegetation fire about 2.10pm on State Highway 10 near Waipapa.

Earlier this week principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor announced a moratorium on any new fire permits, effectively putting the Far North under a total fire ban.

The west coast in particular, from North Hokianga through Panguru and Mitimiti, was extremely dry.

"It would be extremely foolish to light a fire up there now. We're going to jump on every fire we see and send an invoice."

Big fires can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out. One helicopter costs about $2500 an hour to run.

- Northern Advocate

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