Major Taupō vegetation fire controlled just in time

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Major Taupō vegetation fire controlled just in time

A fire that ripped through a 500x500m section of Taupō hillside would have been a lot worse if not for fast-acting council staff and emergency services.

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The large blaze, near a Taupō District Council wastewater treatment plant on Rickit St, on Saturday afternoon prompted precautionary evacuations and a large emergency services response.

Fire and Emergency (FENZ) received reports of the fire about 4.45pm on Saturday. Eight fire trucks and one helicopter were on the scene fighting the vegetation fire.

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A FENZ spokesperson said crews from Taupō first responded and then transmitted a third alarm.

Major Taupō vegetation fire controlled just in time

A fire ripped through about 500x500m of a hillside in Taupō on Saturday. Photo / Supplied

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The helicopter left at 9pm, and all road cordons were lifted, with people permitted to return to their homes if they had been evacuated. Eighty per cent of the fire had been put out at that stage, with some hotspots left to manage.

Some fire crew remained overnight to handle the hotspots, and further teams arrived at first light on Sunday to continue assisting. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Taupō District Council kaiwhakahaere ngā wai e toru/three waters manager Tony Hale says if the fire had gotten much closer to the water treatment plant, it could have “come off much worse”.

“Our site contains chemicals, as you would expect, and the scorched area came very close to the methane gas flare and generator fuel tanker,” he says.

Major Taupō vegetation fire controlled just in time

A helicopter was used to fight a hillside fire in Taupō. Photo / www.takethemoment.co.nz

“Council staff acted quickly in using fire extinguishers while fire service targeted the scrub fire. Our staff remained on-site and in regular contact with the fire service teams.”

Tony says the council and the local community owe a lot to the emergency services involved in fighting the fire.

“We are certainly grateful for the swift action of the emergency services in containing the fire. They were well organised, thoroughly professional and we were impressed with their actions, especially given it was difficult terrain to work in.”

A council spokesperson says the fire caused a little damage to about three plaques at the Taupō Cemetery and a few trees were damaged.

“We were lucky to avoid major damage thanks to the firefighters’ efforts,” the spokesperson says.

Recent weather in Taupō, with just 7mm of rain since December 17, meant an extremely dry environment for the fire to develop. However, a lack of wind on the day did help prevent the fire from spreading further.

Philip Webb lives on the other side of the Waikato River where he had a good view of the extent of the blaze.

“It was heading in two directions, it spread across the bank and was heading back towards town,” he says.

Major Taupō vegetation fire controlled just in time

Firefighters spent hours fighting a hillside blaze in Taupō. Photo / Supplied

“It was a bit of excitement, we had just got home when it started. The wind wasn’t blowing, I think that’s what saved the whole thing too.”

Philip says it was a little scary not knowing where the fire would end up.

“Once the helicopter got there they managed to tone it down and the fire guys were able to get up the bank with the hoses. The main thing was the river was right there for the helicopter to use, so it was able to dip the bucket in and go straight up the bank.

“It was pretty impressive seeing that right out the front of the house.”

The Bay of Plenty fire district, which includes the Taupō District, moves into a prohibited fire season on January 25.

This change means no open-air fires can be lit within the district, and permits to light fires will not be issued.

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