Forestry fire bill set to break record

Helicopters with monsoon buckets fight the Mt Allan Wenita forest fire. Photo by Peter McIntosh
Helicopters with monsoon buckets fight the Mt Allan Wenita forest fire. Photo by Peter McIntosh
A fire in Wenita's Mt Allan forestry block, northwest of Dunedin, is expected to be the most expensive of its kind in the country, the national rural fire authority says.

"It might break a record in respect of the cost of it," national rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said in Dunedin yesterday.

The previous most expensive rural or forestry fire had come in at less than $1 million, but the bill for containing and cleaning up Mt Allan was likely to exceed that, Mr Dudfield said.

He was in Dunedin yesterday with Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy to inspect the fire site.

Mr Guy, whose responsibilities include fire legislation, said he had visited several fire sites in his role as Internal Affairs Minister to see what lessons could be learned from them.

He was impressed with the effort that had been put into controlling the Mt Allan fire, and said it highlighted the value of a well-organised emergency response system.

The blaze also highlighted the care landowners needed to take.

The fire, which consumed more than 800ha of forest and cut-over land, is contained, but still not out, three weeks after it started.

"Landowners need to take special care because conditions can be extreme in places and there's plenty of dry fuel about which increases the fire risk.

"Farmers need to be careful of birds' nests caught in machinery and be wary of any sparks from equipment," Mr Guy said.

It was frightening how much damage could be caused by a moment's carelessness, he said.

Wenita chief executive Dave Cormack, who accompanied Mr Guy in a 30-minute flight over the fire site, said up to 30 Wenita staff were still working on the fire site dampening down hot spots in tree waste piles and tree stumps and salvaging damaged trees.

Mr Dudfield said while it was not the biggest fire in New Zealand, it was the first time one of the country's three national incident management teams had been deployed in New Zealand in recent years.


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