Firefighters suspect Golden Stairs fire was deliberately lit

A bush fire near the Golden Stairs Walkway area as photographed on 22 March, 2024, by local resident Erana Murray.

Photo: Supplied / Erana Murray

A large scrub fire that broke out in the Far North on Friday night is still burning but is now safely contained, firefighters say.

Fire and Emergency incident controller Rory Renwick said the blaze at the Golden Stairs, near Pawarenga on the shores of Whangape Harbour, was brought under control at 5pm on Saturday.

The blaze swept through about 50 hectares of scrub, kikuyu and native bush on steep hillside sloping down to the harbour mouth.

Renwick said the fire was reported after dark on Friday on steep terrain in an area with no road access.

Two helicopters started fighting the flames with monsoon buckets at first light on Saturday, followed by 10 firefighters on the ground.

Hotspots around the perimeter had been extinguished but the fire was being allowed to burn in the middle and down to the water’s edge.

Renwick said there was little chance of the fire spreading beyond the containment area.

No structures were threatened but it could have been a different story if the wind had been blowing in the other direction, towards Pawarenga.

“This shows fire still has the potential to spread rapidly, and why a restricted fire season is still in force in Northland,” he said.

A restricted fire season means a permit is required for any outdoor fire.

Renwick said the cause of the fire was not yet known – but with no obvious cause, he suspected it had been deliberately lit.

The Golden Stairs is a remote, scenic walkway overlooking Whangape Harbour. It starts near Pawarenga and emerges on the west coast north of Mitimiti.

It is thought to take its name from the kōwhai trees that used to turn the hillside a blazing yellow in spring.

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