Firefighters alongside three helicopters are working to eliminate hotspots from a large vegetation fire in Titahi Bay, Porirua, that began overnight.

The status of the fire has remained largely unchanged this afternoon as hotspots continue to pop up, according to a mid-afternoon Fire and Emergency (FENZ) update.

Incident controller Mike Dombroski said the risk of flare-ups would remain overnight.

Firefighters declared the vegetation fire contained late this morning.

“It was our goal to get this fire knocked down as much as possible during the favourable conditions we had today,” he said.

“We’ve been able to do that, but there is always the risk of a flare-up, so having a presence overnight will ensure we can keep on top of any flareups or hotspots that do emerge.

“A drone team will be in operation this evening and overnight to assist with monitoring hotspots.”

One helicopter was called back into action just after 3pm to assist with damping down hotspots, according to a FENZ spokesperson.

“Two ground crews will continue to work on hotspots until dusk, and a crew will remain on the scene overnight to monitor the fire.

“Crews will be on the scene again on Saturday with high winds forecast.”

Earlier today, FENZ said it received “multiple calls” just after 11pm last night, with the first crew dousing flames within 15 minutes of arriving.

Morning incident controller Nick Pyatt said today has been an “important day” to get on top of the fire with high winds forecast for Saturday.

“[Today is] relatively benign, basically still in a Wellington context, so we’ve got another four ground crews we’re putting in in another two hours and an urban search and rescue drone with a thermal camera coming,” he said.

“Our crews have done a great job to keep it contained to where they have, and now it’s a case of getting as much of it out as we can today,” he said.

Earlier today, Pyatt said the fire in Whitireia Park had not grown significantly in size, still sitting at just over 10 hectares of vegetation.

The public has been advised to stay away from the area.

FENZ confirmed no homes are at risk.

Pyatt said it was “too early to tell” what started the fire but said that a specialist investigator was on scene.

He also confirmed FENZ were aware of an explosion heard by residents last night, but did not know if this was the cause of the fire or a consequence of it.

“There were reports of a loud bang and the power going out but we don’t know if it was before the fire started or as a result of smoke conducting electricity through the power lines,” Pyatt said.

The scene of the fire at 6am Friday morning.

He said the area wasn’t currently under a total fire ban, however, he didn’t believe this fire was started by someone starting a legal burn.

“I’ve got one eye on the future because it’s going to get drier, so typically we put restrictions in for people who need to burn and so they can burn safely and keep their business.

“If you don’t need to burn in Wellington, don’t burn, even though we are in an open season.”

Many people online reported smelling the smoke from the fire during the night, from around Hutt Valley and the suburb of Newlands.

The National Public Health Service has advised people to close windows and doors and turn off air conditioning units.

“If you have been exposed to the smoke and are feeling unwell, contact Healthline on 0800 611 116 or ring your doctor for advice,” it said.

Coordinator for the Whitireia Park Restoration group, Robyn Smith.

Fire ‘gut-wrenching’

Whitireia Park Restoration group coordinator Robyn Smith has described hearing about the fire in the area she volunteers in as “gut-wrenching”.

She said she stayed up watching the flames from her home until 2.30am.

The group has been planting native trees and monitoring native wildlife in the area for 18 years.

She said she is grateful the damage is not as large as a previous fire in 2010. However, she said she is still concerned about the area that has been burnt, with wildlife and native trees destroyed.

She wants to know what started the fire so it can be prevented from occurring again.

Whitireia Park closed until Wednesday

Greater Wellington said Whitireia Park will be closed to the public until at least Wednesday next week (January 17). It is so investigations can begin once the fire is under control.

Meanwhile, a rahui is in place until Sunday.

Helmut Modlik, Tumu Whakarae for Ngāti Toa, said Whitireia is a significant area of cultural and spiritual importance to Ngāti Toa.

“Not only is Whitireia Park the landing place of the explorer and navigator Kupe, but the whenua holds special importance to Ngāti Toa at the centre of landmark legislation regarding Te Tiriti o Waitangi settlements and continues to be a focal point of Porirua City.”

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