Ahipara fires: Arsonist continues to torment Far North town with 12 fires in seven months

A Far North town plagued by firebugs responsible for 12 fires in seven months want the arsonists stopped before a life is lost.

The fires in Ahipara have the local volunteer fire brigade and the community fed up with the harm being inflicted.

Last Thursday marked the most recent blaze. Firefighters from the 15-person brigade were roused from their beds at 3am to attend an empty bach set alight on Tauroa Point.

Ahipara chief fire officer Dave Ross said despite their efforts during the three-hour callout, the bach was completely destroyed.

The blaze was added to the growing list of suspicious fires the brigade had grappled with – which included a six-day wildfire, an inferno that razed an elderly couple’s home of 60 years to the ground, the destruction of a two-storey house in Kaka St, and four car fires.

Ross said the personal toll on volunteers was “pretty hard”. They were being drawn from their homes at 1am to 3am then would walk back in the door at 5.30am in time to get ready for work.

During a wildfire on December 29, that torched 56 hectares of scrub and bush in the Gumfields Historic Reserve and forced the evacuation of 100 homes, Ross battled the suspicious blaze for 28 hours.

“I’d have two hours’ sleep, then straight back at it.”

The early morning fires put volunteers at risk of burnout as they only represented 10 per cent of the brigade’s total callouts.

In the case of the suspicious fire that destroyed the 130-year-old Masonic Lodge in Kohukohu on April 30, Ahipara firefighters went straight from a serious medical event to the blaze that started around 4am.

Ross wanted the person or people behind the fires to stop and look at what they were doing to Ahipara’s “brilliant” community.

Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Dalzell, area investigations manager Mid and Far North Police, said while the fires were not necessarily linked, he “absolutely” thought all were arson.

“It’s hurting the community. I feel for the volunteer fire brigade that are always at the front of this trying to extinguish the fires – they get thrashed.”

He said the police’s Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB)attend every fire reported to them to carry out thorough investigations, including forensics.

Their inquiries into the Ahipara blazes had revealed some common threads, in that some of the targeted baches were close to one another, on the beachfront, and were unoccupied at the time.

“Someone knows. Someone who is well connected to that area, or quite possibly living in or around Ahipara and with a good knowledge of the community.

“We hope anyone with information puts their community first and contacts us … it’s the right thing to do to put it to an end.”

A serious arson offence, where there is danger to human life as a result of damage to property by fire or explosion, carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

A person convicted of attempting to commit arson can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Te Hiku Community Board member Jaqi Brown said residents had been told at a hui in January that an arsonist may be operating in the area.

Locals had since come together to boost community safety initiatives.

“We just don’t want it to be the worst case scenario where we lose someone and we don’t want to lose any more property – that’s people’s hard work going up in smoke,” Brown said.

“There is a real strength in the community and desire to work together to work towards the common good.”

Brown said around 20 to 30 Ahipara residents had signed up the newly revitalised Neighbourhood Support programme and promised to get to know and look out for their four closest neighbours.

They’d also taken steps to resurrect their phone trees as part of an update to the town’s aged civil defence plan.

Plans to install around 10 security camerasaround the popular coastal town were well underway, Brown said.

An active Ahipara Facebook page was still booming with people sharing information about their “loved” village.

And local groups – such as Ahipara Aroha Inc, Ahipara Coastal Patrol, and the Takiwa Iwi group – were continuing to bring the community together to create connection.

“Our idea is that the community can feel a bit safer. Of course, we’re all looking for the arsonist,” Brown said.

Anyone with information can contact police on 105 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Source: Read Full Article