Rain, light winds bring reprieve for Kaimaumau firefighters

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Rain, light winds bring reprieve for Kaimaumau firefighters

Northland’s biggest firefighting operation in decades is being scaled down with the 2828ha Kaimaumau wetland blaze now largely under control.

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As of today, day 41 of the fire, about 40 firefighters were at work on the ground — down from 80 at the peak of the fire — backed by an incident management team of 16 people.

At its height the management team numbered 36 people based in Waiharara Hall, about 30km north of Kaitaia.

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Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) incident controller Wayne Martin said the rain of the past few days had helped the firefighting effort, especially in areas of lighter vegetation along East Beach and behind Kaimaumau village.

”But where the crews are working now, in the peat areas, unfortunately that rain has not done anything. So firefighters are working really hard there in the peat, which is hot and dusty, to ensure we can really contain the fire with no more outbreaks.”

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Even in the areas where it had helped the rain was light, totalling just 6mm on Tuesday at one weather station and 1mm at another. Winds were also light, around 10-15km/h.

Rain, light winds bring reprieve for Kaimaumau firefighters

The fire at its height on December 20 as seen from East Beach. Photo / Lisa Everitt

Martin, who is usually based in Kawakawa, said work was now focussed on the western and northwestern edges of the fire ground where underground peat was still very hot.

While the firefighting operation was being scaled down, efforts to make sure the fire was secured and contained would continue.

On Tuesday FENZ re-opened East Beach, a popular recreation and fishing area north of Kaimaumau village, to the public.

However, Martin urged people to stay out of the dunes and the fire ground beyond because the blaze had created hazards in the Kaimaumau wetland.

As areas became safe, FENZ would hand them back to landowners including growers, farmers, iwi and the Department of Conservation.

Northland community risk manager Mitchell Brown was working with partners to develop a recovery plan for the Kaimaumau-Waiharara area. More detail would emerge in the days and weeks to come.

The fire started on December 18 on Norton Rd, which adjoins the Kaimaumau wetland reserve.

An on-site investigation has been completed with the report now being reviewed before the findings are made public.

Initial reports, which FENZ has not confirmed, were that the fire was caused by a burnoff.

The area around the wetland is a mix of pasture and avocado orchards.
It is expected to take months to fully extinguish the fire.

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