Fire leaves landowners 'ecstatic'

The Wanaka farmer whose authorised burn-off sparked a massive fire which burned over 350ha this week says neighbouring property owners are "ecstatic" with the outcome, as it has mitigated the extreme fire risk in the area.

One house was evacuated and several others put on notice early yesterday as fire crews from Wanaka, Luggate and Hawea battled the blaze beneath the summit of Roys Peak, which spread across the hillside to Waterfall Creek before being contained about 5am.

It was fuelled overnight by high winds, warm temperatures and dry bracken, Department of Conservation rural fire officer Paul Hondelink said .

The burned land included about 70ha of The Stack conservation area.

John Levy, the owner of Tuohys farm on the Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Rd, had a Queenstown Lakes District Council permit for the fire, which he described as a "textbook controlled burn", managed by an experienced team of people and a helicopter with monsoon bucket.

Confident the fire was "well and truly out" on Monday afternoon after walking its perimeters to extinguish any embers, Mr Levy attended to other farm jobs, before noticing it had reignited. He called for helicopter assistance, but it quickly went out of control.

Despite the damage caused, Mr Levy said the hillside had been a "time bomb" before the fire, and defended burn-offs as "a natural process for rejuvenation" of the land.

"What you will see ... in a month or two, is new green slopes with better retention.

"It was just a very unfortunate situation in terms of the cost of it, but the end result of it for all the landowners was fabulous.

"Everybody's ecstatic about it.

"They just realise that fire risk of having that amount of combustible material near their homes, so they're glad it's been mitigated."

Marc and Tania Simmonds, whose property has Waterfall Creek running through it, were woken by a text message about 2.30am from a worried friend watching the fast-moving fire from the other side of the lake as it approached their house.

Five minutes later, the couple were evacuated, grabbing their two dogs, a camera and passports as they fled the flames which came within 100m of their home.

They were relieved to find their property unscathed when they returned about 6am yesterday.

Trevor and Kate Norman live in the middle of the fire-affected area and despite a busy night running hoses and sprinklers on the trees around their house, just 200m from the flames. they kept their cool.

"We were OK with it because it was well-watered around our house," Mr Norman said.

His family had also farmed the area for many years so he was used to the unpredictability of burn-offs.

Mr Norman and Mr Simmonds both praised the actions of the firefighting crew and police.

"We're trying to express our gratitude to them in whatever way we can," Mr Simmonds said.

Doc and QLDC will continue to monitor the fire site in the coming days.

QLDC principal rural fire officer Gordon Bailey said he suspected the fire could have been spread by sparks carried by the wind, but a council investigation would officially determine the cause, and who was liable for costs, estimated at about $50,000.

Reimbursement would be sought from either the landowner, or through an application to the National Rural Fire Fighting Fund, he said.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz