Burn-off threatens forest

Fire crews were called to a large blaze in a forestry area on a rural property at Papakaio  yesterday afternoon.

Crews from Oamaru, Weston and the Waitaki Rural Fire Force attended the blaze on Barrie Rd, inland from Oamaru,  after the property owner contacted Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz).

A Fenz spokesman said crews drove to the scene to help with the fire  while two helicopters with monsoon buckets were used to douse the 300m x 400m blaze.

Helicopters carrying  monsoon buckets fight a large fire in an area of harvested forestry at...
Helicopters carrying monsoon buckets fight a large fire in an area of harvested forestry at Papakaio yesterday afternoon. Photos: Daniel Birchfield

Property owner Ian Hurst said the fire started  as a controlled burn-off of windrows — mounds of logging debris — about 11am.

"We checked the forecast and the forecast was good. It was lovely and calm at 11 o’clock. About 2 o’clock, quite a strong northeasterly came in, picking up some small items of hot ash and putting it up into the adjacent forestry block."

He  and several others attempted to control the blaze using portable water tankers and by smothering it using a 25-tonne digger that was at the burn-off site.

When it became apparent those efforts were not enough, Fire and Emergency New Zealand was called about 2.15pm, Mr Hurst said.

Smoke billows from burning debris. Photos: Daniel Birchfield
Smoke billows from burning debris. Photos: Daniel Birchfield

"We tried to do what we could ...  but it was inadequate. When we realised we needed to take it one step further, we called the brigade."

A firebreak had  earlier been created around a former borough water race, he said.

The spokesman said the blaze was bought under control shortly before 5pm and the fire crews stood down.

The local  fire brigade and nearby property owners had been advised of the fire in advance, and were also told  a permit had been issued for it, Mr Hurst said.

He described the result of the blaze as "frustrating, embarrassing and disappointing" and said lessons could be learned from it.

daniel.birchfield@odt.co.nz  

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