Invercargill City Council parks operations staff member
Lindsay Robertson returns from eight hours fighting a
massive scrub fire. Photo by Allison Rudd.
More than 400ha of an internationally recognised
scientific reserve southeast of Invercargill has been destroyed
The fire in the Waituna Wetlands Scientific Reserve,
administered by the Department of Conservation, consumed
mature manuka trees and wetland plants and would have killed
birds and skinks, Doc's Awarua Wetlands project co-ordinator
Polly Bulling said yesterday.
"Years of restoration effort have gone in one night."
The fragile wetland environment, which covers about 20,000ha
including the Waituna lagoon, was nationally and
internationally important for wildlife, she said.
It was one of the largest remaining wetland complexes in New
Zealand and home to more than 80 different species of birds,
and 16 nationally and regionally uncommon plants as well as
lizards and a prolific range of insects.
"We know we will have lost birds and skinks. But we won't be
able to establish the impact until it is safe for us to get
The fire began about 5.30pm on Monday. About 25 firefighters
and three helicopters with monsoon buckets fought the blaze
until 11pm, Southern Rural Fire Authority communications
officer Sally Chesterfield said yesterday.
Another 25-strong crew began at 6.30am yesterday.
A control base was set up on the edge of Awarua Bay and
helicopters ferried men and equipment to the fire perimeters
between 1km and 5km away.
The fire was out by yesterday afternoon, Miss Chesterfield
said. Firefighters would spend one or two days checking the
perimeters and damping down hot spots.
The cause of the fire was not known.
Ms Bulling said it began within the reserve and not on
Miss Chesterfield said there was a significant fire in the
wetlands about every two years.
While this fire was extensive, it was put out more quickly
than some previous fires. The wetland vegetation sat on peat
and fires which got into the peat burned for a long time and
were difficult to extinguish, she said.
"We have been lucky this time.
"Because [October was] so wet, the water table is high and
the fire was easier to control. Also, the wind was not as
strong this time as it can be."