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
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
"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
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
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.