Rabbit hunters thought to have sparked a huge scrub fire in Gibbston Valley face a hefty bill of up to $10,000.
Rural fire officer Gordon Bailey confirmed Queenstown Lakes District Council aims to pass on the costs of fighting the large blaze.
It destroyed 14 hectares on a small hill near Mt Rosa Vineyard late Friday night.
A fire ban is currently in place across the district.
Bailey says: “We will be looking to afford the costs on to the people responsible.
“It doesn’t really matter how it started.
“The legislation is very clear that those responsible for starting a fire – whether it is with a match, a rifle or a lawnmower – they are responsible.
“We estimate the operation cost somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.
“There were no helicopters involved so the people who will pay the bill should at least be quite happy about that,” Bailey says.
The fire broke out on a small hill, at the winery off Gibbston Highway, at about 10.30pm on Friday.
Fire crews from Arrowtown and Frankton were first on scene. A road around the hill provided a natural fire break and a windless night saw the blaze was contained and allowed to burn itself out.
The vineyard business was not affected. Council contractors spent much of Saturday damping down the smouldering hill.
Rural fire is investigating.
Bailey says: “We got some brief statements from key people on the night and heard it was shotguns or high-powered rifles or deliberately lit.
“We need to follow that up and determine what happened. We will be speaking to them over the next few days.
“Shotguns are usually lead or steel balls and I haven’t seen sparks coming from one, or from ricochet, but anything is possible and we need to narrow it down.
“We’ve got an open mind.”
The fire ban remains in place until further notice.