Golfers play on as scrub burns

Golfers played on as a large scrub fire raged out of control behind them yesterday afternoon at Jacks Point, near Queenstown.

A lawnmower is believed to have caused the fire about 11.30am, which spread downhill in scrub, between the Jacks Point clubhouse and Lake Wakatipu.

Firefighters, including 20 from the Frankton and Queenstown brigades, and two helicopters with monsoon buckets took about two hours to bring the blaze under control.

Jacks Point operations and property manager Gary Healey said the grasslands were ''tinder-box dry'' and yesterday's strong winds helped fan the large blaze.

''There was a mowing guy working on the hill there and the mower caught fire,'' Mr Healey said.

Two helicopters dumped water on the blaze for more than an hour.

Mr Healey said the fire did not damage any assets, aside from the contractor's lawnmower.

Contractors tried to extinguish the fire with equipment in one of their vehicles at the scene, but the fire quickly got out of control.

He praised the efforts of the contractors: ''They did a good job.''

Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade station officer Andrew Bary said the fire was about 500m long and 200-300m wide.

By the time fire crews arrived, the fire was ''already spreading aggressively'' through the scrub in a southerly direction, away from the clubhouse.

Two helicopters began collecting water from Lake Tewa, near the clubhouse, ''very early in the piece''.

Golfers continued to play on the course while the fire burned away from them in the background.

Mr Bary said the fire had not threatened the golf course, but a house half a kilometre away was in its path.

''It [the fire] never really threatened but we weren't going to let it get close,'' he said.

At the fire's peak, volunteer fire brigade crews from Frankton and Queenstown were joined by a ground crew from the Department of Conservation and two Queenstown Lakes District Council crews of staff and contractors.

The helicopters involved were from Heliworks and Glacier Southern Lakes. Jacks Point is a 1200ha settlement on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, comprising an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and a residential development.