Authority wears Cecil Peak fire costs


The National Rural Fire Authority has been forced to carry the costs of fighting a almost two years ago after those deemed responsible left the country.

The authority used a contingency fund to reimburse Queenstown’s council the $16,131.70 it spent bringing the blaze under control.

Russell Barclay, the authority’s rural fire manager, of Dunedin, says it hasn’t found the group of people believed responsible to recover the costs.

Although it was disappointing, Barclay said it was “not worth going overseas to try and get that [money]”.

However, if any of the six returned to New Zealand there was a possibility they would be held accountable.

The fire started on March 9, 2014, during a total prohibited fire season, and ultimately burnt about 10ha on the lower slopes.

Rural fire crews and helicopters from the council and Department of Conservation were used to dampen hotspots the next day because the fire was deemed too dangerous to fight when it broke out about 8pm.

A group of six English people was later asked to pay the total costs of fighting the fire – including $13,000 incurred on helicopters.

After contacting police the day after the fire, the group visited the Queenstown station to provide statements.

A 29-year-old man said the group had borrowed a boat to travel to Cecil Peak, intending to have a barbecue and a few drinks.

But shortly after they arrived, an unattended gas cooker appeared to start the fire, which quickly got out of control.

The man told police at the time the group called 111, provided details of the fire and its location before leaving the area.

Barclay believes the group likely left the area again shortly after giving the statements and attempts to locate them had been unsuccessful, with no forwarding addresses available.

That meant the authority had to carry the costs.

Otago Daily Times