Fire ‘heroes’ praised for saving homes
Martin Kennedy had his face covered in a singlet and was struggling to breathe as he drove through thick smoke to get away from his flame-surrounded house.
Kennedy lives atop the hill at the centre of last week’s devastating fire on Waimarama Road, near the Tukituki River.
His house suffered some damage – he lost a fence and his pump shed – but it was a miracle he did not lose everything. He thought he had.
At a nearby property, the owners were not so lucky – their home was destroyed in the blaze, which went on to burn 165 hectares of scrub and pine plantation.
Fire crews and helicopters from around the North Island were called in to fight the blaze, along with four others that broke out across Hawke’s Bay as temperatures soared into the mid30s and strong winds fanned the flames.
A civil defence state of emergency was declared on Monday last week before being lifted two days later once the fires were contained. Later in the week, crews continued dampening down hotspots.
The heroic dousing efforts by helicopter pilots was lauded for limiting the damage and preventing any loss of life as the blazes ripped through tinder dry paddocks and properties.
Among those heaping praise on the crews was Warren Grady who, when he saw smoke drifting through pines and up a hillside beneath his house, knew he had to get out quick.
He and his daughter Brooke were allowed briefly back to their house at 8pm Monday night ‘‘to collect our passports, pets and phones’’ then had to leave again.
They spent hours waiting outside the cordon, certain that the house had been burned down.
‘‘We saw all the helicopters and monsoon buckets just dumping water around here. The fire was jumping and spreading everywhere,’’ Grady said.
‘‘They were the real heroes. Those guys in the helicopters. We thought the place must have gone. But then we saw a glimpse of the grey [wall],’’ he said.
In the wake of the fires, questions have inevitably been asked about how they started.
In the case of the Waimarama Rd blaze, speculation has centred on power lines, but lines company Unison said its network was not at fault.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said the council would pay
Waimarama Rd – One house and 165ha of grassland and pine plantation lost.
Colin White Rd, Te Hauke – 270ha hectares of grassland burnt.
Ripia Stream area, northeast of Puketitiri – 87ha in beech and hardwood scrub lost.
Endsleigh Road, south of Havelock North – 3ha burnt. all fire-fighting costs, then recover it from the NZ Rural Fire Authority, which may then recoup costs from any party deemed responsible for starting the fire.
Yule said the cost of fighting the fire could be as high as $500,000 ‘‘and that did not include the cost of the destroyed house, forestry and other property damage which would easily top $1 million’’.
Warren Grady and his daughter Brooke are grateful their house was saved.