Local firefighters save part of shed

By Peter de Graaf

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SAVED: Firefighters managed to save part of this shed, including the chiller room and ice-maker, near Kohukohu on Thursday afternoon. PICTURE/SUPPLIED
SAVED: Firefighters managed to save part of this shed, including the chiller room and ice-maker, near Kohukohu on Thursday afternoon. PICTURE/SUPPLIED

A long-time commercial fisherman lost half a large shed and much of his equipment to fire on Thursday, but the outcome could have been much worse.

A handful of local firefighters who tackled the blaze at Motukaraka, near Kohukohu, until reinforcements arrived were credited with saving the fisherman's boat, chiller room and ice machine.

Kaitaia Fire Brigade Senior Station Officer Ross Beddows said the alarm was raised at 3.45pm, when a small rubbish fire spread through kikuyu and ignited the shed. Four appliances from Kohukohu, Okaihau and Kaitaia responded, along with a number of local residents.

Kaitaia's Chief Fire Officer Colin Kitchen, who was working in Rawene in his capacity as Volunteer Support Officer, boarded the ferry when he saw the smoke, but by the time he arrived at the scene, about a kilometre from the ferry landing, the fire had taken hold of the shed. He and the owner managed to drag a boat and other equipment out of the shed before too much damage was done to it, but by that stage the building was well ablaze.

The owner was later taken to Rawene Hospital, where he was treated for burns to his legs, arms and chest then discharged, while Mr Kitchen went to the Kohukohu fire station, where a small crew had assembled but without a driver. (The majority of the volunteers were away horse trekking). He returned to the scene at the wheel of the appliance.

Mr Beddows said he could not give too much praise this small group which tackled the fire and established a water supply from a nearby drain, doing their best to hold the blaze for around 45 minutes until a helicopter and a full crew from Okaihau arrived.

Mr Kitchen also commended the efforts of the Kohukohu volunteers, saying that without them nothing would have remained of the owner's shed and livelihood.

Okaihau firefighters, under CFO Andrew Graham, used breathing apparatus to attack the fire, and were instrumental in saving one end of the building, which housed the freezers and chiller, from total destruction. The helicopter worked with a monsoon bucket, filled from the harbour, while the Kaitaia appliances ferried water from the Kohukohu station's tanks.

The fire was out by 6pm but crews continued dampening down for a further hour, and a rural crew from Broadwood stayed there overnight.

Northern Principal Rural Fire Officer Myles Taylor said the fire (and the blaze at Mitimiti - see separate story) had both been caused by people taking their rubbish outside and setting fire to it in long grass.

"That's probably the cause of 95 per cent of the fires we have in Northland," he said. The Kohukohu blaze covered an area of about 200 square metres and the Mitimiti fire five times that, but only because of a quick response by helicopters.

The house at Mitimiti had not been directly threatened. While it was close to the fire the wind was blowing in the other direction, however a large forestry block had been at risk.

The Fire Authority was considering recovering its costs from the people responsible, but there were mitigating circumstances in both cases, he said.

- Northland Age

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