Fire investigation continuing

SHARE

An investigation into the exact cause of more than 20 fires between Oamaru and Maheno believed to have been sparked by a visiting steam train is continuing.

On January 24, A total of 21 blazes ignited over a 12km stretch of railway along State Highway One. The first fire was reported at 2.35pm at a rail overbridge at Deborah, about 15 minutes after the train left to return to Dunedin.

It is believed ash from the train, which made the trip from Dunedin to Oamaru without incident in the morning, ignited tinder-dry grass beside the railway track.

At the height of the fire, 16 fire appliances and three helicopters were involved.

Crops, fences and baleage were destroyed in the blaze.

The final bill for dousing the blaze is expected to top $100,000, which doesn’t include potential claims from property owners who had assets destroyed as a result of the fire.

Last week Dunedin Railways operations manager Grant Craig confirmed an investigation into the incident was under way and said it was continuing to take shape.

It is understood the company’s insurance will cover the cost of fighting the blaze, however Mr Craig was unable to confirm if insurance would cover any other potential compensation claims.

“Our investigation is still ongoing. We are still talking to our insurance people and our assessor, so we are still progressing with that at the moment.

“We haven’t got any bills from the rural fire service. It’s still early days and it takes a while to find out who will make claims and so on.”

While the fire was an unfortunate incident, Mr Craig said it was unlikely to affect future steam train journey’s between Oamaru and Dunedin.

“I don’t see it having a flow-on effect to running more steam engine trips. There’s not as many coal-burners anymore, they’re mostly diesel engines.”

Another steam train, the AB608 Passchendaele memorial locomotive, is scheduled to visit Oamaru in October, most likely at Labour Weekend as part of World War I centenary celebrations.

The locomotive was built in 1915 and named in 1925 in memory of the 450 members of New Zealand Railways who were killed in World War I.

Mr Craig was confident the ground and weather conditions would be wetter at that time of year, and there was little chance of a repeat of last month’s incident.

By Daniel Birchfield