'Suspicious fire' at Westport campsite

Freedom campers had to flee a fierce blaze in gorse near a campsite near North Beach at Westport early yesterday.

It comes as Fire and Emergency NZ move the fire season for the West Coast from open to restricted after a dry spell and warm conditions.

Westport Volunteer Fire Brigade deputy fire chief Trevor O'Dea said they were called to the fire at 5am, right next to the popular freedom camping spot behind the beach adjacent to the Kawatiri River Trail at the end of Derby St.

It burned through about 100 square metres of gorse and appeared to have been deliberately lit.

"It scared off all the freedom campers - they departed pretty quickly. More than likely deliberately lit. It burned for probably three-quarters of an hour," Mr O'Dea said.

The fire brigade was regularly called to that area due to the secluded tracks through thick scrub, often the destination for stolen or abandoned cars.

Mr O'Dea, also the West Coast deputy rural fire officer, said fire conditions across the region are getting "very dry".

"People need to take a lot of care."

Hopefully, the rain forecast for today would dampen down drying out vegetation, he said.

In Hokitika last week, police and firefighters warned of the pending fire risk after dealing with a series of bonfires behind the retreating foreshore.

The fires in marram grass and lit well above the high-water line had the potential to spread to nearby residential properties bordering Revell St.

New warning signs have been erected along the beach in recent days.

- By Brendon McMahon

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