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Fire rips through Wairarapa forest

Wairarapa Times Age

An early morning fire that raged through a pine forest in coastal Wairarapa yesterday prompted a massive response from firefighters. About 7 hectares of trees were destroyed by the blaze while a further 130ha were threatened but saved. The fire was thought to have been caused by a tree-top falling onto powerlines.

Gale force north-west winds hindered firefighters by grounding helicopters with monsoon buckets for the major part of the fire fighting. But the winds helped prevent the fire spreading by blowing the fire seaward. Anders Crofoot, who with his wife, Emily, owns a portion of the destroyed pines, said had the huge gusts been from another direction the flames and cinders could have swept towards the remaining trees in the 130ha Waingaio forestry block. Mr Crofoot was roused just before 4am and raced to join other members of the first response team, the Castlepoint Fire Party, only to find the blaze involved some of his property. “It doesn’t do wonders for your mind to find that out, I can tell you,” he said.

Duty rural fire officer Porky Sexton, Masterton Fire Service, fire parties from Castlepoint and Riversdale, a crew from the Carterton Fire Brigade, the Master Roads tanker and and another from Juken New Zealand joined the fight. Principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky and fellow officer Travis Howell were soon at the scene and a command unit from the Hutt Valley was called in. Mr Sexton said helicopter pilot Jason Diedrichs was alerted but could not immediately respond because gusts estimated at 100 to 140 knots made flying hazardous.

Apart from trees belonging to Mr Crofoot, a further 4ha to 6ha belonging to Nigel Parry was left as blackened stumps. The fire had raged through pines on both sides of the road, with Mr Crofoot’s trees being 15-year-old pines, about 10 years away from milling, but the other pines were much younger. Fully matured pines of average quality are worth about $25,000 a hectare.

Mr Crofoot, whose main farm is Castlepoint Station, said it was likely the blaze started by a tree falling on power lines. “It’s looking quite likely that the top has been knocked off a tree and it has fallen on to power lines and knocked them down. It’s not too bad, but it is worrisome.” By mid-morning yesterday the fire had been brought under control. Powerco, along with the New Zealand Fire Service, will be investigating the fire’s cause. Powerco urged all tree owners to make sure vegetation was kept well away from overhead lines. Network operations manager Phil Marsh said trees near power lines could cause serious fires, especially in dry conditions. “Trees too close to lines are a major cause of power cuts on our network. Supply is often disrupted when trees or branches break, damaging power poles, lines and other structures,” Mr Marsh said.

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