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THE BUSH FIRES., Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume LIII, Issue 0, 11 February 1908
THE BUSH FIRES.
(By Our Special Reporter.) 1 The fiercest and most destructive bush fire that has been experienced in this district for years started on Sunday afternoon, and, though it is felt, that the chief, danger is over, is still burning. The devastated part lies about the Auroa and Mangawhero roads on the Stratfor'd-Opunake road. The country right through has been ! dry and parched for weeks a& a result of the prolonged drought — every piece of bush and timber was like tinder, and the grass, where it wa&- of any length, was in such a condition as to readily feed the flames. A fire has been dreaded for some time. Water was scarce, in fact in some places there was actually none at all. 'Tanks had long since 'given out, wells had in many cases gone dry, and even the creeks which formerly ran summer and winter showed nothing but a dry and dusty bed. Such was the condition of affairs on Sunday when an unfavorable wind sprang up, and fanning the fires in existence Boon had the whole countryside ablaze. A week ago a fire started on Mr Innes' place at the top of the Auroa road, and it was here that the fire first got its hold. It should be pointed out, in fairness to Mr Innes, that he has year after year obtained a bad burn, as he has, out of consideration for the preperty of others, invariably started his fires with the wind in the direction least likely to do him good, but which is safe for his neighbors. Once a little heading was obtained the flames travelled with tremendous rapidity, and from the Auroa road went straight through the Makaka township block. Practically everything was licked up in the awful march. It was ten o'clock when the wind first began to rise. Gradually it became stronger and stronger, and the roar of the approaching flames could be heard at a great distance. "It was like the roar of the surf during a bad storm, only a hundred times worse," one man told the writer. Another said it gave one some idea of what a huge prairie fire was like when thousands of acres were ablaze. By dinner time, that is a couple of hours after the fire was noticed, Geary's new house and milking sheds on the Auroa road were gone. Campbell's shed was the next to go, then Satchell's, and then Searle's old shed. The latter' s new place, in which he had just installed machines and a huge waterwheel, curiously enough came through unscathed in a thicker part of the fire. The wheel was kept running all day, which doubtless saved it. Higher up the mountain Evans had been unfortunate, and though a manful fight was made his ! home was reduced to ashes. For a i time it was kept intact, but finally a large board caught, and as Evans explained, "I might have saved it then, but I hadn't a drop of water left handy, and by the time I could get to the creek again it was gone. It was flat in several moments." . The fire swept a strip two miles wide and four long, and other places were only saved with the very greatest difficulty. Hineman's Johns', Wickman's, Presland's, Bigham's, Morris' Phil- ! lips' & Brooker's were practically being put out during those hours. Really no systematic action could be taken owing ; to the want of appliances and chiefly of water. Parkes and Brooker's will I on the Stratford road had a very nar- [ row escape. All day the struggle lastI ed, and it was only by grit and deter- i | mination that anything was done at all. The heat was something terrific, and the smoke dense and overpowering. When at last a respite came by the falling of the wind at six o'clock the men looked like a stricken army — they were lying about retching and exhausted in all directions. Even then a watch had to be kept all night. At the present time the place is a large smouldering furnace. No rain has fallen, though heavy showers are reported from either side. Sunday night was a weird sight; every log was alight, every bit of grass and in many places the ground and manure were burning. Now and then a big log would fall, throwing up a cloud of sparks, and each puff of wind would bring its shower of embers, ashes and dust. For •» long time the roads were absolutely impassable. >/Help for the afflicted was not wanting, but the trouble was to get there. Mr Walker and a party of six from Te KM tried to gallop up the Auroa road on Sunday, but had no earthly chance. "The flames were right across the road," explained one of the party, "and we couldn't do it. It was like riding straight to hell." At Innes' two large holes were dug I and everything in the house that was j mo'veable was shifted into these and covered up. The house was several times alight, but it was saved. The shed had a narrower escape. It was alight for some time, but nobody could reach it until a room standing I close to the path had been burnt down. | Finally during a lull an effort was | made and the shed escaped destruction. The Innes womenfolk got ' out of the way early, and spent the night up at the reserve in an old whare. The ludicrous side of the picture was presented next morning when pictures and all household effects were being dug out of the holes. "Not a thing was broken," said Mrs Innes, who like the rest of the people, and indeed the losers, was making the best of a trying situation. . Geary's house had no chance at all. The furniture was taken out early and put in Morton's place, which escaped owing to the green pines surrounding it. Mr Geary's, family had a narrow escape. They were sent to the Rowan road, and just had time to get through. Women and children had to be sent from every place on the road. Mr MarI tin Barker stuck to his place as long as he could and then left. Later on he discovered to his surprise that the place was safe. At Morris' a great fight was made for the sheds, where a new milking plant had just been installed, and it was saved. Mr Morris was badly affected, and on Monday was still knocked out. He had to be brought home in a dray, being unable to ride. One of the Mortons was also in bed suffering severely from his eyes. The marvel has been that so much property was saved. "You should have seen the fellows graft," it was explained to the writer. '"It was only grit that pulled them through. Every man there worked till he dropped. Some of the places had to go, but everything
humanly possible was done." On every hand one heard of the work that had been 'done, and of the grit and gameness of the men. On Monday"afternoon most of them' had ' recovered 'to some extent. Some had had a few hours' sleep, and others had had, their eyes attended to. This, apart from the sickness, being the most distressing complaint. All were in a more cheerlul frame of mind, and atf the mill there was a watch of about I '2o j prepared to see the place through" the night. Evans, who had Helped! rthe others when his own place had- been burnt, was" left by the writer returning to the scene at 9 o'clock at- night' with refreshments for the crowd: *"- *"." The countryside is still in a" highly dangerous state. It is still 'alight, and' needs 'only a wind to stait rfc Reaping and screaming again. Rain is sadly wanted, and' not till it comes* wilt there .be any safety. ' ' . ■ - The question on 'all sides' is, "What ,will the weather be?" One woufcPsee a ring reund the moon and foretell rain. But there was no ring to those who had been through the trying ordeal of smoke. The wind was also carefully . watched. Several times on •Monday it was said to be chopping round, but the truth was that i there was very little at all, and that was .coming north-west. A north-easter coming in gusts was playing , great havoc, and a south-easter would bring the fire right back again. Probably the mill would go. At the present time a great pit of sawdust is alight," and has been burning for hours. It is impossible at present to gauge with any accuracy the amount of damage done. It' is not thought that much stock has" been lost. x In the affected part no milking has been done since Sunday morning. One or two are several animals short, and then again some have been milking on the Skeet road, and as stock was, turned on the road some probably got down there. ■ Many cords of firewood have been destroyed, and hundreds of acres of grass is burnt clean off. What is left appears to be useless for stock until a shower comes, as it is covered and discolored with ashes and Bmoke. Grass will have to be re-sown in almost all the paddocks. Messrs Parkes and Brooker are heavy losers, although the mill was saved. Over a mile of tramline has to be relaid at a cost of £2 10s per chain,' for which the expensive bridges will have to be re-erected. The fires have come at a very unfortunate time for the mill-owners, as they are full up with orders and it will take a month or six weeks to get logs out. The milk at the Awatuna factory was "smoky" yesterday morning, tf^i not sufficiently so to affect the ma&e of cheese. 1 Both Evans and Geary will be heavy losers. The former was insured for £150, but £300 will not cover his loss. Geary's house was insured only a week ago, and though he, has a provisional receipt no policy has yet been issued. The insurance agents are expected .to visit the district to-day. On all hands the Innes family are held free from blame on account of the fire starting on their property. "It was not," as one of the chief sufferers remarked, "careless or indiscriminate fire-light^ ing. Their bush was burnt with a fair wind, and if one were to blame Innes j it would be as much as to say that a man can't burn his bush, which of | course is ridiculous." !
THE BUSH FIRES., Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume LIII, Issue 0, 11 February 1908
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