Far North Fire: Waiharara Fire Fighting Cost Over $7 Million

A still-burning fire that has ravaged 2,800 hectares of brushwood has cost Fire and Emergency NZ more than $7 million to fight.

The fire, which started in Waiharara in the Far North on December 18, has twice forced the evacuation of the seaside village of Kaimaumau and has been described as one of the most complex in the history of New -Zealand.

Firefighters reduced operations at the site in February, but said the fire could continue to burn in the peat for another six months.

The Waiharara fire ravaged 2,800 hectares of brush, mostly wetlands.

Fire and emergency/provided

The Waiharara fire ravaged 2,800 hectares of brush, mostly wetlands.

A cost breakdown released this week under the Official Information Act showed Fire and Emergency NZ spent $7,023,231 to control and extinguish the blaze.

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This included fees that had been billed up to March 22.

“It is possible that total costs will increase as additional invoices are received, wrote Nicky Chilton, director of the office of the chief executive of Fire and Emergency.

Helicopters were used to put out outbreaks from the Waiharara fire.

Fire and emergency/provided

Helicopters were used to put out outbreaks from the Waiharara fire.

“Please note that the invoices represent the incremental cost we incur beyond our fixed cost of maintaining a response capability.”

Of the money spent, the bulk – $4.48 million – was spent on leasing air services, such as helicopters.

The second largest cost was for external firefighting services, at $1.22 million.

This included resources belonging to other agencies and people employed by other agencies, Chilton said.

The fire will have lasting impacts on the ecosystem, according to the DOC.

FENZ/provided

The fire will have lasting impacts on the ecosystem, according to the DOC.

Examples given were employees of logging companies and the Department of Conservation, as well as operators of diggers, bulldozers and tankers.

Employee payments, which included overtime and travel reimbursements, totaled $335,293.

Volunteer payments, such as mileage, gas and meal reimbursements, totaled $237,547.

Over $130,000 was spent on fire fighting foam.

On some days, nine helicopters helped put out the flames.

Kurt Silva/Supplied

On some days, nine helicopters helped put out the flames.

The 2019 Pigeon Valley fire – considered the most destructive fire in 60 years – cost fires and emergencies $11.8 million to battlewhile the 2020 Lake Ōhau wildfire cost $1.3 million.

At its peak, over 100 firefighters were battling the Waiharara Fire.

Department of Conservation national fire chief Aroha Hughes said it could take 10 to 15 years for the ecosystem to recover from the fire.

He burned down a science reserve that housed endangered plants, fish, lizards and birds including a rare sun orchid, the black mudfish, the Northland green gecko and the Australasian bittern (matuku).

An official cause of the fire has not been released.