Rural fire crews continued to dampen hot spots from the scrub blaze near the Ohaaki Power Station, south of Rotorua. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
A front loader was brought in today to help dig out some of the more entrenched hot spots and remove smouldering tree trunks. A fire investigator was on scene this afternoon to determine the cause of the fire. It is not yet known if it is suspicious. Firefighters were also called to a scrub fire on the Huka Falls and Spa Park walkway in Taupo this morning which is being treated as suspicious.
Fire Service Central-Lakes assistant area commander Hamish Smith said the blazes were a timely reminder that the region was entering its driest period of the year. "We're really starting to dry out now. Pumice soils and periods of wind coupled with the lack of rain over the last few weeks will be big contributors to the region drying out. "Even if the area looks green, chances are underneath it's completely dry."
Mr Smith said some of the "high risk" areas the fire service was concerned about included Sulphur Point and the Redwoods. "These are areas that have high foot traffic numbers, attract both tourists and homeless and run the risk of people lighting fires. "Because it is so dry and windy it doesn't take much for the smallest fire to spread and cover a large patch of vegetation." He said it was also vital the public alerted the fire service to any suspicious behaviour in and around high risk vegetation areas. "People need to use their common sense. There is a cost to fighting these fires. If you do see suspicious behaviour, alert the fire service immediately so if it is a fire, it doesn't spread."
Rotorua Lakes Council rural fire zone manager Richard Horn said he had been looking at the situation on a day by day basis. "Today I put a stop to burning at least until Sunday and then will reassess the weather conditions. People can still apply for open fire permits but we are asking them not to burn at the moment."
Taupo District Council rural fire zone manager Roger Nelson said there had been several vegetation fires over the last couple of weeks. "I've thought about putting a ban in place but at the moment we are just taking it day by day. I have declined a number of permit applications saying to apply again next week as hopefully the rain will come through that is forecast for this weekend. "Those that do have open fire permits we are asking them to take absolutely all precautions to ensure no fire gets out of control."
As of today, an immediate suspension has been put on all open air fire permits in the Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga City rural areas. Current permit holders are being asked to refrain from open air burning when possible.
Vegetation fires January 6 - 12