Firefighters skip Christmas to battle Matakana blaze

Fire investigators are now beginning the complex task of establishing what started Matakana Island’s massive blaze, as exhausted crews swap out after a fourth night on the job.

Newshub was allowed exclusive access to the island for the first time since Saturday night's fire which spared locals but razed 37 hectares of pine slash and scrub.

The fire has burnt through 37 hectares.
The fire has burnt through 37 hectares. Photo credit: Newshub.

In Wednesday's 30-degree heat, flare-ups on Matakana Island pose a real risk.

"Summer has turned up and our rain that was coming has gone away so it'll be quite difficult today," FENZ incident controller Jeff Maunder said.

It's hot, exhausting work and far from festive for the 35 firefighters, who've come from all over Bay of Plenty and Waikato.

Many have skipped Christmas to wrestle the beast that's swept through the southern end of Matakana Island - 20 minutes by ferry from the mainland.

"For all those guys and girls, those wahine that are all out there, we are so grateful and whatever contribution we can do we do it," local Nessie Kuka said.

The indebted island has a population of 250 locals who usually relish their isolation but this week they've stopped at nothing to fortify their firefighter friends.

Bedding has been brought over for the firefighters from the local marae and locals have made casseroles and cakes to keep their energy levels up.

Among the priorities for firefighters, are building containment lines. As wide as a four-lane expressway, they now surround the smoldering scene to stop it from spreading into valuable pine.

"It can burn down through the roots and burn down through sand and if not careful it'll burn through the roots and back to square one," Maunder said.

Locals are eager to hear what investigators find as the likely cause.
Locals are eager to hear what investigators find as the likely cause. Photo credit: Newshub.

Locals are eager to hear what investigators find as the likely cause.

"We know what it isn't... not power lines, not weather, so we start by the process of elimination," Maunder said.

But with hundreds of hotspots still needing to be eliminated, those at the coal face warn fires like this could happen anywhere this El Nino summer.