Uncontrolled fire blazing in drought-stricken Southland


A major fire at Awarua, south of Invercargill, is burning through about one thousand hectares of manuka scrub and peat soils.

An aerial image of the fire at Awarua, south of Invercargill, which was taken during a  reconnaissance flight on the afternoon of 3 April, 2022.

Nine helicopters and four ground crews are battling the fire. Photo: Fire and Emergency NZ

The uncontained fire, which started yesterday evening, is mainly on Department of Conservation (DOC) land.

In a statement, Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) said the blaze extended from the head of Awarua Bay to the Waituna Wetlands.

Awarua Bay Road has been closed to the public and people were asked to stay away from the area.

Nine helicopters and four ground crews were tackling the fire, with incident controller Mark Mawhinney saying they would be on site until dusk and would return at daylight tomorrow.

The forecast was for a change in wind direction tomorrow, with easterly gusts of up to 45 knots, Mawhinney said.

FENZ said the fireground was difficult to access on foot and crews were likely to be working for a fortnight or more to fully extinguish the fire.

Bluff Community Board chair Raymond Fife said drought conditions had left the area quite dry.

“We haven’t had any rain of any description for months and it was a worry something like this could happen, even this time of year.”

Fife said he was concerned about how long it would take to put the fire out, given it was burning in peat.

Dean Whaanga, Kaiwhakahaere for Awarua Rūnaka, said Awarua-Waituna was significant to Ngāi Tahu whānau and to the local community.

“We are thankful for the quick response from Fire and Emergency as they go about protecting this special place and the taonga species that live there.”

Awarua-Waituna is one of New Zealand’s largest remaining coastal wetland systems, one of five significant wetlands in DOC’s national Awarai Kākāriki wetlands restoration programme. It is home to many wading birds and other species.

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