This image shows the extent of the fire which escaped from the permitted burn area on Roys Peak, near Wanaka. The permitted area is at right and the fire spread across the mountain to the left. Photo supplied.
The farmer whose permitted burn-off sparked a large fire on
Roys Peak, near Wanaka, on October 15 has been found
responsible for the blaze.
The fire cost $40,000 to fight, and damaged 116ha of
farmland, 17ha of conservation estate, fences, power poles
and electrical supply to a radio transmitter. It threatened
two homes as it continued to burn overnight, travelling as
far as Waterfall Creek, where a combination of topography,
aspect and weather helped quell it about 5am the following
day. The fire investigation, which included interviews and a
site inspection, was carried out by Department of
Conservation rural fire officer James Cowan, of Queenstown.
His recently-completed report was released to the Otago
Daily Times yesterday by Queenstown Lakes District
Council principal rural fire officer Gordon Bailey.
The report said John Levy, of Tuohys Farm on Wanaka-Mt
Aspiring Rd, had been burning bracken under a permit issued
by QLDC. The fire escaped at least three times over the
period of the permitted burn, but was stopped each time by a
helicopter with monsoon bucket working on site.
''The permittee has failed to notify the escapes as they have
happened during the process of his burn and has failed to
recognise these escapes as warning signs that additional
vigilance was required to control his burn,'' Mr Cowan said.
One of the escapes reignited about 5pm, an hour or two after
its perimeter was checked by Mr Levy and an assistant, and
spread into neighbouring Alpha Burn Station.
''He has taken what he believes were all reasonable steps to
ensure the fire was out. However, my experience and hindsight
has shown that the perimeter should have been continued to be
monitored until weather conditions were not favourable for
reignition - higher RH [relative humidity], low wind, low
''Mr Levy has not conveyed to me that he is well experienced
in burns of this nature and given the high-risk site he was
burning, this has more than likely contributed to the
Mr Levy arranged for the helicopter pilot to return to the
site. However, attempts to suppress the fire by the pilot and
Mr Levy - using a Doc-supplied fire-beater - were
Mr Cowan said the combination of slope, wind, sprayed bracken
and low humidity had made the permitted burn ''very
difficult'' to contain.
The fire permit issued to Mr Levy stated the burn must be
carried out in a southwest wind, but the topography at the
fire site meant it was a westerly and northwesterly wind.
''It may have been SW when he started the burn.''
Mr Cowan noted the permit allowed for burning from 6am.
However, it was often better to not light up until after 1pm,
to determine the day's true wind direction and strength, he
''This condition may have been added to take advantage of the
early morning low temperatures and higher RH to help contain
He recommended future permit requirements for helicopters on
site should also recommend they had the capacity to use foam.
Mr Bailey said the recommendations made in the report would
be used as a learning tool for issuing future fire permits.
Mr Levy had indicated he would cover the fire-fighting costs,
although the council had a back-up option of lodging a claim
with the Rural Fire Fighting Fund.
While Mr Levy would not face a council prosecution, Doc
Wanaka community relations manager Annette Grieve said the
department had yet to consider the report and had, therefore,
made no decision on whether to prosecute.