Helicopters and fire crews battled massive blaze at Wainamu Beach

Helicopters were called into battle a large scrub fire stretching 500m along a cliff above Wainamu Beach.

Raglan Volunteer Fire Brigade attended the blaze on Wednesday night but were unable to reach the fire with their appliances and the crew spent the night keeping an eye on the fire.

The Raglan crew were sent home on Thursday morning and Waikato principal rural fire officer Matt Cook took over the management of the fire with Te Akau Volunteer Fire Brigade doing the groundwork.

Initially just one helicopter was called in and a second was called about 10.30am as the fire had warmed up overnight and early Thursday morning, creating a flare-up.

Firefighters managed to stop the fire from getting into the mountain bike track and pine trees but it tore through pampas grass and gorse on the cliff.

The steep terrain made it difficult for the firefighters to tackle the blaze by foot but they managed to get it under control about midnight on Thursday.

The crews returned to the fire on Friday to dig out any hot spots and Cook says they continued to keep an eye on the fire over the weekend.

Tainui hapū environmental spokesperson and local Te Kōpua resident Angeline Greensill was alerted to the fire by her son and called it in around 8.30pm on Wednesday.

A key player in the sand dune restoration in the area, Angeline and her son dug out a fire break and bucketed water to dampen down the area between the dunes and the pampas.

“I was worried that no-one would be able to do anything (for the dunes). From about 2003 to now we have been restoring the dunes and I thought I’m not going to let this go up in flames. We were very fortunate that the wind was blowing in an easterly direction and it took everything out to sea.”

She says the area where the fire raged is known as Te Upoko and was likely a lookout point for the local Tainui hapū Ngāti Hounuku.

The cause of the fire is still unknown but Cook says human error is probable and it highlighted the need for people to take care.

“It’s a public area and there’s evidence of people camping in there (Wainui Reserve), but that could just be day camping or picnicking. I doubt that it was deliberate – if you were going to set it deliberately you would have set it in the pines.”

Cook is grateful to the Raglan community for the support offered to the firefighters.

“Thanks to the Raglan community, like the Surf Lifesaving Club who have been really helpful and a lot of kind wishes from the public which has been really nice.”

The Waikato region went into an open fire season last week and Raglan Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Frank Turner is urging people to hold off lighting any fires until after the country had been through the whole lockdown process.

Franks says a lot of people at home during lockdown are using the time to burn off rubbish and garden debris in their backyard, and the brigade want to avoid unnecessary call outs for smoke or, worse still, call outs to fires that have got out of hand.

Janine Jackson