On 11 January at about 6.30pm the NZ Fire Service (NZFS) was alerted to a fire on Motu Ariki Island, in Lake Tekapō.

Tekapō Volunteer Brigade (NZFS) responded and were on the island within 40 minutes via the local policeman, Brent Swanson’s boat. Their response was really impressive and their passion for the island was obvious.  The fire was accidental and is believed to have been caused by the actions of three guys from the UK. The Department of Conservation (DOC) and South Canterbury Rural Fire District (SCRFD) are investigating. Police spoke to the suspects on Saturday night.

On Saturday night DOC Twizel staff Steve Ochsner and Shaun Aitcheson went through to Tekapō and together with NZFS, SCRFD, Coast Guard and some passionate Tekapō locals, they tried to contain and control the fire. Crews battled a large blaze in tall pine forest on the island until it became too dangerous to continue.

The wind was very strong and the lake was very rough. One helicopter was used with a monsoon bucket from Tekapō Helicopters on Saturday evening. No more helicopters were used due to the nature of the vegetation and ground cover – a very deep layer of pine needles means that unless the ground is actively dug, fire cannot be extinguished.

On Sunday morning a crew from DOC Twizel and one from Aoraki went back over to the island with Coast Guard to assess the situation and deemed it too dangerous (because of both the weather and fire ground) to continue any suppression efforts. It is estimated that 80 percent of the island’s vegetation has been burnt.

The department would like to acknowledge the cultural significance of Motu Ariki and extends an offer to any concerned whānau to please make contact with us.

Nā Sally Jones, acting conservation partnerships manager, South Canterbury District Department of Conservation—Te Papa Atawhai. Phone 03 4350 455.

Fire raging on Motu Ariki Island, Lake Tekapō.

Fire raging on Motu Ariki Island, Lake Tekapō.