Fire ‘he­roes’ praised for sav­ing homes

The Napier Mail - - FRONT PAGE - MARTY SHARPE

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’’.

PHOTO: JOHN COWPLAND/ ALPHAPIX

War­ren Grady and his daugh­ter Brooke are grate­ful their house was saved.

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