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The Department of Conservation is furious that a fire was deliberately lit last evening on the edge of the Okarito kiwi sanctuary on the West Coast, home to the world's most rare kiwi, the rowi.
The daytime fire, in pakihi swamp along the Okarito Forks Road, did not harm the three pair of rowi nesting in the area, but DOC conservation services manager Wayne Costello, of Franz Josef Glacier, said it was still a "senseless act of wilful damage".
Only 400 rowi remain, mostly living in the Okarito forest and swamps.
The fire burned about half a hectare before it was extinguished by volunteer firefighters from nearby Whataroa and Franz Josef Glacier.
"We take our hats off to the brigades - they both did a brilliant job," Mr Costello said.
It was a worry that the fire was lit in the same area where arsonists lit a series of fires in February 2010, again threatening the kiwi colony.
At that time, four separate fires were set early in the morning in a dry swamp area around the Pakihi Walk, about halfway between State highway 6 and Okarito township.
Franz Josef Glacier Volunteer Fire Brigade spokesman Tim Gibb said the fire yesterday was easier to control as the area was "quite wet".
Firefighters were on the scene from about 6pm until 8.30pm.
Mr Gibb said it appeared to have been deliberately lit, and he believed tourists were the likely culprits.
Mr Costello said he was at a loss to explain why anyone would set fire to an area where it was well known that rare wildlife lived.
"People down here value the area and look after it. It's hard to explain why others commit such senseless acts."
After the 2010 fires the tiny Okarito community rallied together to post a $10,000 reward for information leading to prosecution of the firebug, but no information was forthcoming.
Mr Costello said kiwi living in the area were probably only spared this time because the blaze happened during daylight hours; kiwi were nocturnal.
Rowi were known to frequent that area of pakihi but "they were lucky enough not to have been there on this occasion".
"They would have been within a kilometre of the site."
- By Viv Logie of of the Greymouth Star