Queenstown vegetation fire alarm is ignored


A large vegetation fire near Queenstown – thought to have sparked from trees interfering with power lines – was predicted by locals. 

In March last year, Mountain Scene published concerns by Closeburn resident Andrew Yeo that singed overgrown trees near power lines could spark a bush fire. Yeo’s plea came after a 2005 blaze, caused by fireworks, ravaged the Closeburn area and threatened 60 homes. 

A 300-metre long fire in a nearby gully above Wilson Bay on Tuesday came close to houses and prompted 25 residents to evacuate. The tree thought to have sparked the blaze by falling on lines was on private property, understood to be an 11- hectare block owned by film director Sir Peter Jackson’s partner Frances Walsh. 

Now Closeburn resident Marc Scaife, who found a 20m pine lying on lines near Closeburn Hill on Tuesday, says it’s time to start taking line and tree tangles more seriously. 

“These pine trees are a major hazard. If something like this had happened in the dry season, they would’ve lost houses. 

“Someone has to take ownership of the problem.” 

Department of Conserv-ation programme manager biodiversity threats Mark Mawhinney says DOC may try to recover costs if the fire was because of negligence. 

Aurora Energy contracts Delta to maintain power lines, but Delta trims trees once – after that Delta leaves it up to the landowner to prevent infringement on power lines. 

A Delta statement says staff were working in the area on Tuesday – restoring power to 442 consumers after an outage at 3.15am – and saw the fire and fire fighters arriving at 6.09am. Power was restored to most clients at 6.11am. While it’s unclear what caused the outage, Delta’s statement says: “Initial investigations have indicated the possibility of third party damage”. 

Mountain Scene wanted further comment from Delta in relation to who exactly is responsible for line maintenance and keeping them tree-free, but was told chief executive Grady Cameron was in meetings for 10 hours straight yesterday and unavailable. Engineering services manager Nigel Harwood was busy with civil defence meetings and maintenance manager Brent Vink had “no comment”. 

Delta’s distribution designer Kevin Richards says: “The trees were what caused the line to come down and set fire to the undergrowth.” 

He’s working on a proposal to put the lines – a supply off the Glenorchy feeder – underground. 

Last year Vink told Mountain Scene a “constrained budget” meant local tree work was cut back.