Signal Hill fire suspect, authority head says

Graeme Still.
Graeme Still.
The Fire Service is treating as suspicious a blaze that ripped across 24ha of Dunedin’s Signal Hill last week, requiring multiple fire appliances and three helicopters with monsoon buckets to put out.

Otago Rural Fire Authority operations manager Graeme Still said yesterday a preliminary  investigation of the site, above Logan Park High School, had been completed, and no ‘‘natural cause’’ for the fire had been found.

"We’ve come to the conclusion it is a suspicious fire, and if anyone has any information they want to pass on, that would be good."

The tracks on the hill were reopened this week.

Mountain Biking Otago committee member Hamish Seaton said it was lucky the fire occurred during a quiet post-Christmas period for the hill criss-crossed by biking and walking tracks. Up to 100 people a day could use each track, and usually, in summer, shuttles ferried bike riders back up the hill.

"We were just lucky it wasn’t one of those days when the shuttle was running," he said.

Mr Still said the area was reopened to mountain bikers and other users yesterday.

After the December 27 fire, volunteer firefighters and a digger continued mopping up and dampening hot spots.

Yesterday, Mr Still said all firefighters were off the site, and the last work done there was when he dug out some hot spots on Monday.

He had told Mountain Biking Otago on Monday the tracks in the area could reopen yesterday.

Rain that had fallen recently, and more expected today, would help the situation.

The fire, however, could not be described as completely out.

"We’ll get this rain tomorrow, and then I’ll be happy.

"We never say it’s completely out until we get a lot of rain."

The area was safe for mountain bikers to return, as "nothing was showing" after his work on Monday, but people should bear in mind a good rain was needed before the fire was fully out.

Mr Seaton said most of the organisation’s tracks in the fire area had come through "pretty well".

The top section of a track called Quarry track had been destroyed and had been closed for the time being.

Two other tracks had minor damage, from where a digger had cut fire breaks, but a work party was being held today to fix those.

"We should be able to make them rideable again."

Other tracks bulldozed for fire breaks were still accessible, but were now "a bit wider".

There did not seem to be any dangerous trees near the tracks, though the Dunedin City Council was getting an arborist in tomorrow to make sure.

Mr Seaton said the club appreciated people staying off the hill, after the fire came "at a bad time" during the holiday season.

● Mr Still asked anyone with information on the fire to call 0800 673 473, or to call police.

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