Council warns of fire ban after Wakatipu blaze

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Queenstown’s council and DoC has issued a reminder on the total fire ban in the wake of last night’s Cecil Peak fire.

The ban, which effectively rules out all open campfires, is in place across Queenstown Lakes District.

Gas and electric BBQs are the only outdoor fires permitted, except for those in approved permanent outdoor fireplaces.

Fire crews finished dampening down the site this afternoon.  

Incident controller Mark Mawhinney, of the Department of Conservation, says  the area will continue to be monitored to ensure the fire does not flare up again, with warm weather forecast to continue for several days.

Investigations into the cause of the fire are continuing.

Police say two men seen speeding away in a boat from the fire have denied any involvement.

The scrub fire caught hold on the lower slopes of Cecil Peak, directly across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown Bay, at 8pm last night.

Police spoke to two men who disembarked from a boat in Queenstown Bay last night.

“The boat was seen speeding away from the area,” senior constable Chris Blackford says.

“They were spoken to but denied any involvement. Inquiries are ongoing.”

A total prohibited fire season is in force across the Queenstown Lakes District.

Council’s operations general manager Ruth Stokes says once the cause of the fire is established, if those responsible can be identified, they will be liable for the costs of fighting the fire.

The large fire sent smoke billowing across the bay.

Before dark last night a helicopter was used to inspect the fire and the surrounding area to check that no-one was in the vicinity.

Stokes says no fire crews were sent to the site last night because the risk to life from fighting fires in the dark outweighed the need to bring the fire under control, given its remote location and the terrain.

An aerial inspection at first light assessed the fire as being well under control.

Mawhinney says the prevailing calm and humid conditions last night and forecast for this morning had minimised risk that the fire would have spread overnight.

There is no suggestion that the landowner had been responsible for the fire, and everything else was speculation at this point, Stokes says. 

The peak isn’t home to any houses or residents but is the site of a newly unveiled high-altitude golf tee officially opened by Prime Minister John Key last week.