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Blazes worst I’ve seen – fire chief


A spate of big fires in late March was the worst Ōtaki fire chief Ian King had seen in his nearly 50 years with the local brigade.

Ōtaki fire chief Ian King

“We’ve had bigger blazes, but three major fires and a couple of smaller ones in the space of a couple of weeks is highly unusual,” Ian says. “They certainly kept our local firefighters on their toes.”

About 20 years ago the brigade had about six Ōtaki fires within a matter of hours. While those were found to be the work of an arsonist, Ian says there is nothing to suggest the recent fires are related.

It started with a fire at Waikawa Beach on March 15, just as some of Ōtaki’s brigade were returning from a national firefighter bowls tournament.

“I looked out the window of the van coming home and saw a plume of smoke,” Ian says. “Sure enough, we got called out to assist.”

The fire, believed to be a spark from a chainsaw, razed about 16ha of scrub.

Then just after 1pm the next Friday, March 22, a shed at the old chicken farm on Swamp Road, Te Horo, caught fire. Smoke was seen throughout the district.

Ōtaki firefighters at the scene of the fire on Swamp Road, Te Horo, on Friday, March 22.

Photo Ōtaki Today

The Ōtaki brigade was first on the scene, joined by the Te Horo Rural Fire team, and later trucks and tankers from Waikanae, Levin, Paraparaumu, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington.

“It was a big, challenging fire because we didn’t have access to a nearby water supply,” Ian says. “We had to rely on tankers. It was also difficult because the shed was full of vehicles, machinery, tyres and oil, and as we discovered, fireworks.

“There was no way we could save the building or the contents. Even vehicles parked next the shed were burnt out.”

The next day, on Saturday, March 23, scrub near the old Ōtaki health camp caught fire about 6pm. Ōtaki firefighters found two teenagers trapped in dense blackberry, with flames rising around them. Police on the scene apprehended one 17-year-old; another of the same age was taken to hospital with moderate injuries. Police say two youngsters have been referred to Youth Services.

The health camp fire also required Ōtaki’s full brigade resources.

“All available firefighters were called out,” Ian says. “It was another big fire that took a while to get under control.”

Scrub near the old Ōtaki health camp

About 4ha of scrub was burned, but efforts to keep the fire from nearby homes, the pine forest and the health camp buildings were successful. Staff and tankers were again required from neighbouring stations.

Early the following day, Ōtaki’s two fire trucks were called to assist at a rest home fire in Levin.

Then on Friday, March 29, a factory in Titoki Street, Ōtaki, caught fire about 6.20am. The building was used by Matta Products to make rubber and PVC safety matting.

“As you can imagine, that was a pretty intense fire with all the flammable materials inside,” Ian says.

Assistance from other brigades was again required, with personnel and tankers coming from as far away as Wellington and Palmerston North.

Ian has high praise for his team.

“They’re an awesome crew with some genuinely talented people,” he says. “They have to rush away from their jobs and their family to battle fires – often for hours at a time, in the middle of the night or at weekends. And they’re volunteers.

“It’s a huge commitment. Ōtaki is lucky to have them.”

The Ōtaki Volunteer Fire Brigade has a team of 22 active firefighters, with two new recruits. It is one of the few volunteer brigades in New Zealand to have a waiting list.

Blazes worst I’ve seen – fire chief




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