Farmers are being urged to seek advice from rural fire officers before burning off standing vegetation or slash after a burn-off got out of control in Northland on Wednesday.
The landowner was intending to burn off about two hectares of standing gorse and logging waste on the Tinopai Peninsula.
The fire jumped a firebreak into more gorse and slash and eventually burnt through most of a 50 hectare block before stopping once it got to green pasture.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand Northland Deputy Principal Rural Fire Officer Rory Renwick said the fire burnt rapidly along a ridge to where a digger was in the process of building further fire breaks.
"Fortunately the operator had not pushed far into the block and was able to get to a clearing just before the six to eight metre flames crossed the narrow fire break he was working on.
"At least four people have been killed in land clearing burns in New Zealand over the past 10 years. This incident could have resulted in another fatality," Mr Renwick said.
"We don't want to stop the safe use of fire but people need to understand the risk of burning areas of slash or standing vegetation.
"Even though this area is currently in an open fire season and permits are not required, we urge anyone considering a burn-off to get in touch with us first. We can provide free advice to help people manage the risk of controlled burns."
Mr Renwick said people also needed to understand the cost of suppressing fires. "It's not cheap and, in addition to the expense, there is the inconvenience caused to volunteer firefighters and their employers when they are called to fight a fire."
Fire crews from Tinopai, Ruawai, Paparoa and Dargaville were called to the blaze shortly before midday on Wednesday. They initially focused on protecting a nearby dwelling and a block of totara, then moved on to protect a small plantation of blackwoods. Two helicopters were used to try to stop the fire from crossing a waterway through the middle of the 50 hectare block.
"Unfortunately, the fire jumped the waterway in multiple places, starting spot fires in the heavy gorse and slash and continued to burn through most of the 50 hectares and a boundary fence."
Fire crews departed the scene about 5pm once the risk of fire spread had gone.
The fire is expected to keep smouldering for a couple more days.