Russell Postlewaight had not long poured himself a scotch when he saw the smoke.
Porirua’s chief fire safety officer lives in Paremata and has a fantastic view looking towards Porirua Harbour and Whitireia Park. On the evening of Sunday, February 21, 2010, he was settling down when he spotted telltale tendrils of smoke above Shelley Bay on the other side of the water.
“In no time the smoke had become flames and I thought, ‘No good can come of this’. I watched it all develop and it lit up the sky.”
The huge blaze caused hundreds of people on Gloaming Hill to be evacuated and briefly threatened the Titahi Golf Club.
In the end, 30 hectares was charred by the blaze, and it took years to recover.
The cost to fight the fire and to the park was estimated at more than $500,000.
The blaze is thought to be the biggest in Porirua’s history. Six crews from around the region attended, with 60 of the 80 firefighters volunteers, and four helicopters with monsoon buckets were used.
Titahi Bay resident Sarah Campbell recalled her two eldest children, 4 and 5, thought the smoke, sirens, helicopter and fire engines was a “great adventure”, but her two youngest, 22 months and 2 weeks, were terrified by the noise and drama.
“Despite a rough evening for our family, we were not in imminent danger and were able to offer friends meals and coffee when they were evacuated from their homes,” she said.
“I saw the fire as it was starting and had no idea then that it would become as huge as it did.”
Fellow resident Donna Ford-Tuveve remembered the crackling of the fire and feeling the heat over her boundary fence.
“The prevailing wind and the awesome work of the fire crews were the saviours,” she said.
“One of our sons was a newborn. I was getting them ready to go to their nana’s in the east, because I was concerned how close the fire was. The burnt smell lingered for ages.”
Porirua firefighter Kevin Hintz worked on the fire the following day and said it was tough work.
“We were in gullies and had to use chainsaws to cut a track in. The conditions were dry and the flames were travelling quickly.”
Postlewaight said it was the most spectacular fire in Porirua’s history. Two dry summers and warm winds created the perfect recipe for fire, he said.
“It showed off the basic tenets of teamwork [among fire crews and senior command] and was a plain, old-fashioned slog. It did get rid of a lot of gorse, however.”
There was smoke damage to houses, but no-one was injured.
Members of the Red Cross, Wellington Free Ambulance and fire services were later publicly thanked in a ceremony at the golf club.
The Whitireia Park Restoration Group was established to set up replanting projects and weed control.
A 14-year-old was charged with deliberately starting a fire and went through the courts.
Kapi-Mana News – KRIS DANDO