Firefighters remain on alert

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Ongoing vigilance on the railway line affected by Saturday’s fires along a 21km stretch south of Oamaru saw firefighters back on the job yesterday dampening down a hot spot at Maheno.

Otago Rural Fire Authority rural fire officer Eric Spittal said firefighters remained on alert for any hot spots.

“The area is being closely monitored and with people on the ground, any flare-up can be dealt to quickly.”

Efforts by firefighters drawn from as far north as Glenavy and south to Palmerston, assisted by three helicopters with monsoon buckets and ground-based local land owners, managed to contain the 21 fires which are believed to have started from sparks falling from the steam engine “Jessica”, which had visited Oamaru on Saturday.

Totara farmer Jock Webster, who assisted with firefighting efforts, said the crops were just green enough not to be affected by the fire.

“Another two weeks and it could have been a different story and a bit of a challenge,” he said.

“Thankfully, there was also no wind.”

Blakely Pacific South Island manager Andrew Cocking said Blakely Pacific had been fully consulted by the Otago Rural Fire Authority on plans to bring the steam engine to Oamaru.

“The Otago Rural Fire Authority did a great job with their communication,” he said.

“We were certainly made aware of the risks and had our own manpower patrolling the forest perimeters.”

Blakely Pacific’s Herbert Forest Estate covers an area from Shag Point to Herbert.

Investigations into the fire continue for Dunedin Railways, which leased the 69-year-old locomotive “Jessica” for the day trip to Oamaru.

Operations manager Grant Craig said he was working closely with the company’s insurers and reports of the incident were being lodged.

“We have a lot of insurance issues to deal with.

“The paperwork will be quite extensive,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Rotarangi, principal rural fire officer with the Otago Rural Fire Authority, said yesterday the fires were a reminder to organisations and others that if they lit or caused a fire, all costs associated with controlling that fire would be recouped by the authority.

“The cost of suppressing the 21 separate fires is likely to exceed $100,000,” she said.

By Jacquie Webby

PHOTO: SUPPLIED – Firefighters work hard to dampen down a hot spot, one of 21 different areas to catch fire in a 12km area between Alma and Maheno after the steam train “Jessica” was dropping ash on its trip from Oamaru to Dunedin.