The cause of last Friday’s fire on Rabbit Island is being treated as suspicious.
Rural Fire Network boss Ian Reade, who is based in Richmond, said the cause of the fire was still being investigated but anyone who saw people acting suspiciously at the eastern end of Rabbit Island mid to late morning that day should contact police.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand Southern Communications shift manager Andrew Norris said fire crews from Richmond, Appleby, Mapua and Brightwater were first called around noon on Friday
to fight the fire, which was in sand dunes near the forest on Forestry Road.
He said with the help of two helicopters and a number of water tankers they contained the fire on the seaward side of the dunes, although there were fears that the reasonably strong northerly wind that was blowing at the time would push the fire into pine trees.
Crews stayed there for the rest of the afternoon and were then called back on Saturday morning, Reade said.
“It sparked up again, so we had a couple of crews there on Saturday. We kept an eye on it for most of the day.”
Fire crew were back again on Sunday to monitor the situation, he said.
Winds on Friday and Sunday only made fire crews’ jobs more challenging, he said.
Friday’s sea breeze was replaced by strong southerlies on Sunday. Although that meant the fire was blown towards the sea it also reduced the humidity, he said, drying out grass and other small material – effectively providing more fuel for the fire.
“It was the trifecta – hot temperatures, wind to push the fire along and low humidity, around 30 per cent, which meant any spark could catch in the grass.”
All rural areas in the Waimea are under a restricted fire status, which means a permit is required to light one outdoors.
Reade said in general fire permits were not being issued due to the warm, dry conditions, and it was likely a prohibited fire season – which means no outdoor fires can be lit – will be introduced across the Waimea Basin within a week or so.
The Tasman District Council closed all wood-fired barbecues on Rough Island and Rabbit Island on January 11 due to the increasing fire risk, and said they will stay closed until the dry conditions ease considerably.
The forest on Rabbit Island is worth a lot to the council. A spokesman said as at June 2018 the trees were valued at $19.6 million. They earned an average gross income over the last two years of about $4.4 million.

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