Campers suspected of causing fire

The owner of land burnt in a scrub fire near Wanaka on Monday night suspects it could have been caused by a freedom camper.

John McRae, of Glendhu Station, said yesterday it appeared the fire began near an area where freedom campers parked at the start of the Diamond Lake track, on Mt Aspiring Rd.

''It looks like it's started on the opposite side of the road [from the station] down by the Department of Conservation camping area.

''It looks like the fire started there and jumped the road.

''It just shows you the risk we have with freedom camping around this neck of the woods.

Photos of the fire on Monday night, the charred aftermath and a map showing the extent of the damage. Photos: Mark Price/Supplied
Photos of the fire on Monday night, the charred aftermath and a map showing the extent of the damage. Photos: Mark Price/Supplied
''I'm just relieved that the fire was put out and I hope they catch the person that started it.''

Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokesman Isaia Piho said yesterday he could not confirm the cause, however the first report was that the fire originated in ''an older slash pile that had flared back up''.

Police were at the scene yesterday afternoon but declined to comment.

Mr McRae lost 100ha of feed he was saving as a ''drought buffer'' for cattle in a dry summer.

''Never mind, a lot worse things could happen. We'll just go to plan B,'' he said.

Mr McRae said the fire also burnt Doc land at the top of a popular rock-climbing area, which was closed to the public yesterday.

The Otago Daily Times counted five Doc signs prohibiting camping and fires within about a kilometre of the fire.

The area had had less than 8cm of rain since July, which Mr McRae said was ''pretty dry'' for that area.

Mr Piho said a firefighter was hit in the face by a log while fighting the fire.

The firefighter received cuts and bruises and was taken to the Wanaka Lakes Health Centre for observation.

Incident controller Mark Mawhinney praised the work of crews who stopped the fire from establishing itself on the opposite site of Mt Aspiring Rd.

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