1897-98 Fires

New Zealand was in the grips of a prolonged drought over the 1897/98 summer. Nevertheless, the fire season may have remained unremarkable but for two days in January 1898 when a severe gale swept the country. In Hanmer, the gale arrived on 14 January and raged for more than 24 hours. Principally north-west, it sometimes swung due north, and blew down trees, lifted roofs and felled chimneys. One man died attempting to repair a roof, blown a distance of 20 metres. The 24 hour wind run in Wellington from the morning of January 13 averaged 48 kph, slightly more than the previous 24 hours. Several yachts broke their moorings. Telephones wires were down.

In areas where there were fires, the effect of the wind was devastating, and many areas of the central part of the country were swept by flames over January 13th and 14th. Although called bush fires, the high rates of spread were more likely due to the extensive grasslands that had already been established. At least 385 buildings were razed, two deaths were attributed to the fires. The total area of land affected is unknown, but would have been very large under the extreme conditions. The fires added to the failure of wind-damaged telecommunications. Some light drizzle came through on the night of January 14, which quietened the fires in most areas, but it was not until the 17th that the extreme  fire danger finally subsided.  

At the same time, Australia was suffering devastating bush fires.

The fires were earlier than normal for settler burning, usually done in February, and grass seed had yet to be harvested, ensuring high fuel loadings. It was said that "fires are catchy things. A settler sees a neighbour firing, and fearing that he may have a bad burn himself if it spreads to his section, he burns also, and so it goes on". This was suggested as the origin of the disaster, and there was some talk of the Government being approached with the object of amending the law so as to lay down more stringent conditions as to burning.  

map of 1897- 88 fires

Contents:
Taranaki

Manawatu-Rangitikei
Forty Mile Bush
Wairarapa
Wellington
Nelson/Marlborough
Canterbury
Other Areas

TARANAKI 

12 January: big fires that evening on farmland near Kaponga.

14 January: in the evening, fires were raging all along the Opunake Rd from Rowan  and Awatuna towards Stratford. Out-buildings were lost on the Manaia Rd, north of Kaponga. Fires had spread to Mangatoki, west of Eltham, and Mangamingi, east of Eltham. South-east of Eltham, fire had jumped the Waingongoro River, and  was burning on the outskirts of Eltham and around the Rotokare and Fraser Rd areas. Hawera received a brief heavy shower of rain in the evening; this would appear to have been highly localised

15 January: There was a strong westerly gale blowing.  A house was destroyed at Cardiff, west of Stratford. At about 2 pm, embers set fire to sawdust at the rear of a mill in Ngaire and, in spite of the efforts of 30 men, the mill was destroyed along with out-buildings, and a house, store and bakery. Although the Ngaire school caught fire,  the men managed to save this. Two houses were burnt along the Cheal Rd, east of Ngaire. Also in the afternoon, the west side of Stratford was a mass of blazing timber. The fire swept through native bush at the domain and the town was under ember attack.  Refuse in several backyards of houses ignited, but vigilant townspeople formed bucket brigades to extinguish these, and no houses were lost. At about 11 am, the Stratford Fire Brigade had gone 3 miles east. In a six hour battle, during which 68,000 gallons of water were pumped from the Kahouri River, they succeeded in saving the mill and surrounding buildings. One mill at Toko, 6 miles east of Stratford, was destroyed. A second Toko mill was saved by local efforts, having been on fire several times. There were fires were all around Toko and also north east of Stratford along the Beaconsfield Rd. Stratford was out of danger at midnight. Hundreds of trout, and also eels, were seen floating on the Patea River around Stratford - easy pickings for the children who took them home by the dozens.

16 January: settlers were having a hard time at Makino, and a number of families had to be evacuated. One house was destoyed, but others set alight were saved. The Ratanui dairy factory and farm houses in that area were saved only after strenuous efforts. Fires had been burning around the Meremere area and to the back of this district.

17 January: rain commenced falling in Stratford about 8.30 am, and the danger had past. Four dwellings, two sawmills, a store and bakery, and numerous out-buildings were destoyed. The area burnt was much larger than that burnt in the great 1886 Stratford fire.  

24 March:  a settler at Rowan Road, was burned out by a bush fire, driven by a gale.

MANAWATU-RANGITIKEI

4 -13 January: beginning around this date, a bush fire was started somewhere in the vicinity of the Peep- o-Day road which travelled east across the Oroua river and burnt a quantity of cocksfoot grass seed. It spread, destroying more grass seed. After smouldering for several days, it returned to the original property, threatening the house and other buildings. There were also fires burning out-of-control on the eastern side of the Norsewood-Apiti and Table Flat roads.

14 January: the whole country from the top of the hill leading into Apiti on the Pohangina side of the Oroua river seemed to be on fire and the settlers on each side of the road were sorely tried protecting their properties from the devouring flames. Six buildings were destroyed in the township of Fowlers, 17 miles north of Fielding, when high wind drove a fire across the Kikitea river. Several others, including shops, a church and hotel were set alight, but residents managed to extinguish the flames. Children and most of the women were evacuated, furniture was removed from houses, and even the safes of the hotel and BNZ bank were removed to the street. A mill on the Oroua River, opposite Fowlers was destroyed, and stock losses were in the 1000’s. Several houses, a sawmill and cheese factory were destroyed in the Pohangina Valley and, at Waituna, a house and saw mill was levelled. At Apiti the fire was making its way towards the township. Between Cheltenham and Fowler's the road was almost impassable owing to the dense smoke and heat. Women and children from Birmingham, near Feilding. were sent to Cheltenham when the wind started driving tfhe fire onto the houses. Almost every house was on fire at some time. Water was scarce and the terrific heat and smoke were suffocating. Despite every effort, 3 houses, a bakery, and sawmill plus sawn timber stacked in Birmingham for the erection of Kiwitea County offices was lost. A house was lost on the Bunnythorpe Rd. Rain began to fall at 10 pm, checking the flames. One man died from while engaged on putting water on outbuildings at his brother's place on Pohangina road, north of Ashurst during the bush fires. An inquest concluded that death resulted from heart disease, accelerated by the exertion, smoke and heat. The township of Ashurst was in great danger until 10 pm, when the welcome shower fell and saved the township which, in spite of willing workers fighting the flames all day, seemed doomed until that point. At Woodville, the firemen and residents had to fight hard to keep the flames off the township. The glow of fires in the hills was observed in Palmerston North. Many of the farmers over the east side of the Ruahines had ploughed a strip all around their paddocks to prevent the fires running through their grass.

 8 March:  a bush fire that had been burning near Pohangina came down the ranges toward the river. Everybody west of the fira was placed in danger, and there was considerable loss to stock, fences and grass and a large quantity of valuable timber destroyed. It appears that no dwellings were burnt.

FORTY MILE BUSH 

This is the district running from Kopuaranga north to Woodville, and was the southern part of the Seventy Mile Bush that was bounded by Norsewood in the north. It is now largely the Tararua District.

 15 December 1897: large fires were reported as raging in the Scarborough district that day (south of Pahiatua), threatening the township. Settlers were defending houses and the school.

 21 December 1897: a bushfire destroyed Copeland’s sawmill at Maharahara (north of Woodville), some 30 km to the north of Scarborough.

 9 January 1898: around Pahiatua, destructive fires raged throughout the day in the Mangahao district. Several settlers were been burnt out and much damage done. Fires sprang up in the Tawataia district, between Eketahuna and Alfredton, and ran over a large area, doing heavy damage. Some small settlers were rumoured to have been burnt out. A small bridge near Mauriceville was partially destroyed, and railway traffic was interrupted. The telegraph wires to the North were down. At Parkville, one house was burnt, and another badly damaged. Rain fell early next morning, dampening the fires. This was to be just an intermission.

 11 January: a breeze sprang up, and conditions were as bad as ever again. In the Sterling Special Settlement, near Eketahuna, a bouse was threatened. The owner took all his furniture and valuables out and buried them. The fire swept past, and the house escaped. He then unearthed the furniture and returned it to the house again. This had only been done a short time when the wind took a turn, and back came the fire, destroying the house and all its contents. Losses in the Dannevirke district were high. Train passengers from Napier were inundated with smoke.

13 January:  a strong westerly wind fanned the blazes, resulting in most disastrous bush fires ever experienced in the district around Pahiatua. It drove the Mangahao fire east in the direction of Pahiatua, and left behind it a track of devastation. In 1896, Pahiatua was a sizeable town of  1158, and had established a fire brigade in 1892. Families from Scarborough and Mangahao began to flock into town, having had to abandon their homes.  One settler at Mangahao, after his house and shed had been burned down, put his wife and children down the well all night.  The Makuri Gorge was on fire, with the road blocked by flames, and telephone wires to Makuri and Ballance were down. The Pahiatua Railway Station was several times in danger, and at 6.30 pm the stationmaster's family had to be brought into town. The whole of the country around Woodville was on fire, although the town itself was not under attack

Fires between Alfredton and Eketahuna have spread over a large area, with some back settlers being reported to have been burnt out. Owing to dense emoke it was impossible to ascertain the extent of damage.  At Parkville, to the west, several house were under threat or burnt out. Further south, a 3 span (each  60ft each) railway bridge at Mauriceville was buring. This disrupted rail traffic through to Napier until it was later repaired .

A fire started in the Mount Bruce district, east of Mauriceville, and  about 17 miles north of Masterton. Under a heavy gale it swept onto a sawmill, threatening it and other buildings. Women and children evacuated in thick smoke three miles to a cottage on the Ruamahanga River. The goods and chattels of the mill-hands had in the meantime been removed and buried, some in pits, and some in the basin of the Ruamahanga. By the time that the evacuees arrived at the cottage, it was also under threat from the fire, and the whole party made preparations to retire to shelter under the big river banks, if the worst came to the worst. Happily the wind changed, and the fire beat backwards. In the meantime a vigorous gale had carried the fire right, round the mill, leaving it untouched. A watch was kept on through the night by the seventeen mill-hands.

 14 January: the Mt Bruce mill hands were just about to congratulate themselves next morning, when down came the fire again, fanned by a stronger wind than before. The men fought the flames, but the mill at Mt Bruce was destroyed. Later that evening, it was estimated that the fire had spread over several thousand acres. It was claimed that forty or fifty acres of bush would be covered in flame in a few minutes. The fires were still spreading through the Forty Mile Bush area, and the gales continued. The post office at Tawataia, east of Eketahuna,  was burned at 5 pm, but no letters or papers were lost. It was known that 15 homes had been destroyed in Scarborough, Ballance and Maungatainoka. It was certain that many other homes must have been burnt, and that the loss of stock would be tremendous. The Wesleyian Church in Maungatainoka was lost; the Police Station had been surrounded by flames, and was abandoned; the railway station was saved with great difficulty. The Tui brewery, founded in 1889, survived (the famous brick tower is dated 1931). Losses were also being sustained around Woodville. Mr Copeland, who lost his sawmill to fire on the 21st December, now had his house destroyed at Maharahara.

The fire had crossed the Maungatainoka River that runs down the west side of Pahiatua and was raging on the Pahiatua Racecourse. The grandstand was spared, but several out-buildings were destroyed. Houses at the north end of Pahiatua were surrounded by flames at 4 pm, and by 7 pm, communication with outlying parts was cut off. North and south of the town, the fire had crossed the main road (4 chains wide), and the town was enclosed in walls of flames. The gale was blowing from the east; had it been from the north or south, then the town would have been destroyed. The smoke was so thick that respiration was difficult. The town was full of homeless people, and if it caught fire then it was feared that the Norsewood disaster (16 March 1888) would be repeated, but on a much larger scale. At 8:35 pm, it was reported that the fire was rapidly reducing the circle in which stood Pahiatua. The hills were ablaze in every direction, and the crash of falling trees and the roaring of flames could be plainly heard in the town which was then under ember attack. The wind was still rising, and a terrible disaster seemed inevitable, in spite of a few drops of rain that fell. The rain became heavier about 10 pm, and continued intermittently throughout the night, stabilising the threat to the town. Showers also quietened the fires elsewhere that night.

Two residents had been put on to look after the traffic bridge from Pahiatua to the railway, which was saved with great difficulty. Trains were not running due largely to communications failures. All telegraph lines on the East Coast were down with the exception of one between Wellington, Masterton, and Napier, and only urgent telegrams were being received for these places. The Department states that the disorganisation of the telegraph service owing to the gales and fires is the worst they have had to deal with. The two wires which usually carry all the Railway Traffic Department's instructions to and from trains on the lines are completely obstructed.

 15 January: next morning, fires were still smouldering around Pahiatua, and the wind was still blowing hard. However, the risk to the town had passed, although fires in the outlying districts were freshening and starting to spread under the wind. A badly burnt settler was brought in from Coonoor, and a house was reported as destroyed at Tiraumea, both well to the east.

16 January: the fires were reported as rapidly spreading at Ngaturi, and the settlers there were anticipating a very bad night. Fire was within a few yards of Ngaturi telephone office. The area affected by the fires was over 40 miles long.

17 January: fire was reported travelling east by Makuri, Weber and Pongaroa towards the coast, and the road was a scene of desolation and ruin. Flames were still raging around Ngaturi and in the Makuri Valley.  However, the Postmaster at Pahiatua reported that in spite of the westerly gale persisting, the fires in that district were subsiding. At Balance and Manghao, the fires had burnt themselves out, and Pahiatua was almost free of smoke. Fire at Woodville had subsided due to the rain, and those at Eketahuna were almost extinguished. The fires did not appear to have extended many miles in a northerly direction from Pahiatua, but with occasional gaps they cover the ground to the south for a considerable area. It was suggested that even more damage had been done by the fire after passing Pahiatua than it did before reaching that town. Stock losses were very heavy. Many people had been injured, and a women from Ballance died on the 17th as a result of earlier exposure and fright from the fires.

18 January: The Postmaster at Pahiatua wired to the Secretary of the General Post Office at 9.37 a.m. to-day :"Twelve hours' very heavy rain has fallen over the whole district, and all danger is now over. The Mangatainoka River is in high flood." The Evening Post this day relates many of the settlers tales of survival. It also reported that brown trout were practically exterminated in the rivers of the Forty Mile Bush. Thousands of fish from 10lb down had been gathered. Rainbow trout had escaped, and not a single fish of that species had been found dead, and they could still be seen swimming about in the rivers. They survived because they inhabit the deeper pools.

19 January The first of a series of bush fire cases began in Woodville. The parties were from Mabarahara, and the plaintiff claimed £100 damages through a fire lit by the defendant destroying his property. Swift justice! There were many more of these cases to be heard.

26 March the Lands Department announced a complilation of the settlers' statements of loss through the recent  fires. The summary showed that 308 buildings were destroyed in the Forty Mile Bush district. The stock destroyed included 10,553 sheep, 37 cattle, and also horses, pigs, dogs, and fowls. The value of the fencing burnt was £3374 15s 8d, the value of the grass burnt £7020 12s 3d, the value of houses £9286, other losses £7492 10s; total, £30,344 (about $5M in 2010 values). The insurances were £5106. About 15,350 bushels of grass-seed were required to re-sow the burnt patch. Less than £700 has been received in subscriptions, and all the lists are now called in.

WAIRARAPA

9 January: fanned by gale northwest winds, bush fires raged along the face of the Tararua hills west of Carterton, behind Belvedere and Dalefield.  Grass fires spread over the Tauherenikau Plains, destroying fences, sheds, and a few sheep. Light rain had checked the fires’ spread at midnight.

12 January: Three Greytown young men in a whare near Woodside were surrounded by bush fires. Towards evening, the wind carried sparks to the grass, and for hours they fought the flames to save the property. One rode to Greytown for assistance, but arrived considerably burned about, and almost suffocated. He was unable to speak or convey his message for hours. A rescuing party  went out to the scene early next morning, and brought the others into town. The Greytown Fire Brigade was called over to Matarawa to save a saw mill from destruction, and worked all night. Fires were still raging at Papawai and Morrison's Bush.

13 January: there were reports of fire at Mikimiki and  Kopuranga. A large bush fire was raging in in the Waiohine Gully on the Tararuas, and spreading on to the flats placed several of the homesteads in that locality in danger.

14 January: bush and grass fires were still raging in the vicinity  the Tararua range, and Greytown was stifling with smoke. The houses of dairy farmers at Dalefield,  Belvedere and Woodside were seriously endangered by spreading fires. Miles of fences had gone, and hundreds of acres of grass, as well as many sheds, and it was only by the most strenuous efforts, and by keeping water poured on to the roofs that the houses were being saved. People were exhausted, for many have been working since the 9th. A fire ran onto Matahiwi, causing large losses. After crossing the railway line, the fires got close to the Carterton Public School, but did no damage. In the Wainuioru district, towards the East Coast, there were evidently extensive fires. In the rivers were be to seen hundreds of dead trout, which have been choked by the wood ashes in the water.

16 January: Masterton received about 12 mm, checking fires in the district.

17 January: Masterton  was free of smoke, and there were no indications of fire in the district. There had been little wind overnight, but it was beginning to freshen from the west, and there was concern about possible reignitions. Reports were being received of there having been extensive fires towards the East Coast,  and a belt of country from six to eight miles wide and some 25 miles long has been devastated (30,700 to 41,000 ha). From the Kaiwhata Valley (north of Flat Point) to the junction of the Wainuioru and Pahaua rivers was in flames on the 14th, with a strong north-wester driving the fire before it. Settlers had fled to the sea coast. The road from Wainuioru to within half-a-mile of the sea was impassable. The Waikikino Native Reserve was on fire. Some women and children had a fearful time, and fled before the fire for a distance of nine miles.  Officers of the steamers Te Anau and Fanny state that when they passed between Castlepoint and Flatpoint on the 17th,  the bush fires were burning fiercely, and the flames ascending from the hill sides in thick volumes. Presumably, rain set in as there were no further reports of fire activity  in the East Coast.

5 March: a bush fire raged by the Rimutaka Summit, and placed the rail station buildings in great danger, with fire catching a shed containing 30 tons of coal, and supports to the water tanks being burnt. The fires, thought to have started from a burn  in fallen bush in the Paekakariki valley, swept over the hill from Pakaratahi and eventually threatened Cross' Creek.

WELLINGTON

3 January: a bushfire began in the hills west of Belmont, Hutt Valley, and worked its way along the back of the range. 

~5 January: fires lit in Johnsonville and Ohariu. January 10,

9 January: the Belmont fire came down from the head of bush-clad gullies opposite White’s Line in Lower Hutt. Other large fires worked their way from the head of the Horokiwi Valley and Moonshine through towards the Hutt district. It was said that about a thousand sheep were destroyed en route. A bush fire in the Mangatora Valley killed all of the trout in the river for several miles down the provincial boundary. Thousands of dead fish were lying in every pool in the river. 

10 January: a bushfire was raging in the Silverstream valley, east side of the Hutt Valley. The northern and western outlook from Wellington city was obscured by the dense smoke arising from bush fires from Johnsonville and Ohariu. 

12 January: driven by a gale wind, the bush fire near Petone made rapid progress southward and, on the evening of that day, the heights above Ngauranga were seen to be on fire. Northward from there, a line of fire said to be 20 miles of length (actually, about 20 km) was visible from Petone along the western side of the valley. The fire came down the gully opposite the Petone Railway Station, and the Horokiwi and Korokoro Valleys were on fire from end to end. In the Korokoro Valley, an immense fire raged on both sides, and the grass on the flat blazed to about 400 m from the Wellington Company's Woollen Mill, where it was checked by the mill hands. The dense volume of smoke driven down the gully rendered it impossible to work in the mill, and shortly after noon the machinery was stopped. The natural bush in the gulley now known as Percy’s Reserve escaped damage. The grass on the stopbank was lit by flying embers, but the outbreak was fortunately observed, and extinguished. Railway signals near the Korokoro bridge could not be seen for smoke, and trains had to crawl until they were clear of the smoke.

Several out-buildings were burnt that night in Johnsonville, and fire swept onto the Wellington suburbs of Crofton and Khandallah that same day. Some 30 Permanent Artillerymen were sent out to render all assistance to the residents by train. A reporter followed, noting the Kaiwarra Stream valley was burnt, and there was active fire along the north side of the Manawatu railway at Crofton and Khandallah, where furniture was being removed to be stored at the Khandallah school. Some sheds were lost. That night, there was continuous fire from Khandallah to Ohariu. Fortunately, the wind abated, and the Artillerymen were not need on the next day.

13 January: fires were still raging on the hills all along the western side of the Hutt Valley, and the freshening gale was stirring them into renewed activity. The fires were fiercest at Haywards and at Silverstream. At about 2.30 pm, there was considerable fear that the fire would be carried from the hills at Haywards across the railway line into the valley itself. There were fires at Cape Terawhiti and in the Wainuiomata Valley, and an extensive one was said to be raging in the direction of Moore's Valley, one of Wellington’s water supply areas. There were rumours of heavy losses in Wainuiomata where a settler was said to have lost over 800 head of sheep.

14 January:a Wairarapa line train trip revealed no sign of active fire until Petone. In Petone, a large building had been destroyed by a fire that, it was believed, was caused by sparks from the bush fires. There was heavy smoke in the valley north of Lower Hutt, particularly from Hayward’s Station (now Manor Park) from smouldering logs. The fire at Silverstream had moved on, and was still visible in the far distance. Beyond Silverstream, the atmosphere became clearer, and from thence to the Upper Hutt only a slight haze hung over the district. The distant hills all around Maungaroa showed signs of fires which had been burning for some days. Similarly, there had been large fires at Akatarawa that were still smouldering. Losses were not thought high. Slight drizzle fell overnight as winds abated.

15 January: Calm, clear skies. With the exception of scrub still burning in Horokiwi, fires in most areas appeared to have died out, and the danger was over. Fires were belatedly reported in Waikanae, Paraparaum and Pahatahanui. 

17 January: heavy rain put out all gorse and bush fires that been burning in the  Wellington region. The Hutt River, that during the past dry weather had been exceptionally low, was running swiftly with good volume. It was reported that road traffic from the north of the Hutt Valley had been temporarily suspended due to losses of Hutt County Council bridges: a 72ft bridge on the Akatarawa Rd, a 16ft bridge on the Pahatahanui Rd, and a 20ft bridge on the Rimutaka Rd (about 1 mile north of the Pakuratahi River). 

NELSON / MARLBOROUGH 

21 December, 1897: bushfires began in the Takaka Valley, and continued raging for days. 

29 December: fires burnt out the uninsured Upper Takaka timber mill of Baigent’s Bros. A large bush fire, thought to have originated from a spark from a tram engine, started in the Rai Valley. The fire swept through a large portion of the Valley, and laid bare hundreds of acres of land on both sides of the road.The situation worsened. 

30 December:a bush fire started at Bainham in the Collingwood district about 11 am. Fanned by a strong wind (probably southerly), it quickly grew, covering the whole of the township of Bainham, and devastating the settlers' holdings, buildings, for a stretch of about four miles long by two miles wide. Heroic efforts were made by the inhabitants until after daylight next morning, and there were many escapes from burning under trying circumstances. Almost every house in the settlement was at one time or other ignited, and suffered more or less damage. Dozens of men were completely blinded for days, and many  worked untiringly for over 20 hours. The effects of the fire were disastrous: two sawmills, Bainham Public Hall and a house were lost, along with stables, two barns and more than 8 workman’s huts. The fires raged till the evening of 2 January, travelling right through Bonny Doon towards Kaituna. An immense amount of land was cleared, and crops lost. The danger was considered to be over by the 3rd

Also on the 30th, a fire started at the bottom of Wakefield Gully, and swept up the gully, taking hold of a battery shed, containing a valuable battery plant, and within a few minutes the whole place was completely levelled to the ground, including two workmen's huts, the tramway, the shoot, and other plant. 

31 December: Another fire swept the whole of Appos Gully on , and by 3rd January was raging away in the ranges at the head of Rocky River. 

5 January, 1898: although there was no loss of buildings reported from the Rai Valley, stock and farm property had been lost. The driver of the Blenheim mail coach had great difficulty in forcing his way through the fire and dense smoke on New Year's Day. He had to gallop the horses, and to throw water on the coach to prevent it from igniting. The captains of the steamers Penguin and Corinna, which arrived from Wellington early in the morning, said that the smoke from the fires in the Rai had completely enveloped the French Pass and surroundings; very careful navigation was required in bringing the steamers through the Pass as the usual landmarks were completely lost to view.

6 January: extensive fires were reported in the Tadmor and Sherry districts. 8,000 acres of crops and bush had been burnt in Sherry, but, in spite of houses being set alight, none had been lost.

 7 January: Takaka and Collingwood bushfires were still raging, and a third (and last  in the Collingwood area) sawmill had succumbed. Fires were raging further south on the Hope Saddle. The mail coach leaving Longford, near Murchison, was over four hours late reaching Belgrove. It was doubtful whether the coach from the Nelson end would get through next day.

13 January : a bush fire, a mile and a half long, was threatening the sawmills at Wai-iti. A good deal of fencing has been destroyed in Maitai Valley. Large areas of bush, famous as picnic resorts for Nelson residents, had been swept away. A line of fire about 32 miles in length was raging between Happy Valley and Canvastown. The coach from Nelson to Blenheim was much delayed. Traffic was very risky, and communications cut off. The telegraph was was down between Nelson and Havelock, and linemen are out  to repair the damage. . The weather was intensely warm, and the drought was serious. The bush fires continued to create alarm all through the district. Some crops at Appleby were with, difficulty saved, and at Pigeon Valley, Wakefield,  people had gathered from the surrounding districts to fight the fires. Many settlers, however, have suffered considerably.A good many sheep were lost, and property threatened.  Strong southerly winds still prevailed, and there was no appearance of rain. From the Foxhill district it is reported that the hops are affected by the dry weather. At the Acclimatisation Society's meeting that night it was resolved to request the Lands Department to appoint a Ranger to check the lighting of fires on Crown lands. 

14 January: bush fires were raging about the Marlborough Sounds, and the settlers in the Mahau and Kenepuru Sounds are suffering severely. One house at Kenepuru had been destroyed in the morning. The settlers were lighting counterfires to save their property from complete destruction. The great fire in the Rai Valley was still burning, and the surrounding country was enveloped in smoke.

15 January a bush fire spread to Canvastown and Wakamarina in the afternoon, and did considerable damage. Stables at Canvastown, were destroyed, and the  bridge was on fire several times. One residence had a narrow escape, men having to remain on the roof for some hours to protect it. Residents fought to save their houses, but two settlers homes and several of the Maori houses, on the northern side of  the Wakamarina, were totally destroyed. The new school at Canvastown was frequently alight, and had several holes burnt through the walls. Sixty men saved the Blackball mill during the evening. In Havelock, there was grave apprehension as to the safety of the houses erected on the rising ground at the foot of Mount Takoreka. A change in tho direction of the wind at 10 pm removed the danger. At Upper Moutere, a farmer had all his stacks and outbuildings, including a hop-kiln, barn, and pigstyes consumed by fire, and had a barn full of provender destroyed. A court case later in the year arose from this. At Takaka several houses were saved only by great exertions. At Motupipi, a barn and outbuildings with nine pigs were destroyed.

16 January: rain fell in the Upper Buller, Waimea, and surrounding areas and, while this checked the fires somewhat, they were reported as still burning. 

5 February: A bush fire in Aniseed Valley, supposed to have been lit by boys, spread to the machinery shed at the mining company's property, and destroyed the costly plant. The house, which was in danger, was saved.  

In total, 4 houses, 10 workmen's hut, 3 sawmills, 2 businesses, 3 barns and other outbuildings were lost.

CANTERBURY

6 January 1898: bushfire noticed about 1 km in from Ryde's sawmill, Birch Hill. It was ignored, as was thought it would burn out.; fire still smouldering when inspected on 13th.

13 January: another fire in the hills north of Mt Oxford  was observed. There was a fire in the domain at Christchurch, which the brigade managed to extinguish, and extensive fires on the Peninsula around Lyttelton.

14 January: wind sprang up about 0830, and fire was observed in the highest hills north of Oxford (the "Oxford fire"). The Birch Hill fire blew up and headed SE down the gully towards Ryde's mill, and Birch Hill homestead. Mill staff and campers fled,  narrowly escaping with their lives. Fires coalesced, and the whole of Oxford bush became a mass of flames. 

15 January: wind moderated about 9 am, and smoke around Christchurch cleared.

18 January: steady rain fell until 9 am, extinguishing all fires. Damage estimates were £20,000  in the Oxford/Woodside area, with 26 homes, at least 3 mills, and numerous outbuildings destroyed. 1000 acres of bush was burnt. An enquiry was held, but responsibility for the fires could not be established. Losses of £4,000 were estimated on the Peninsula. 

OTHER AREAS

19 November, 1897: a strong westerly wind caused a fire near one of the workman’s hut at a battery site at Wharekeraupunga, Coromandel,  to spread rapidly. Buildings were threatened, but about seventy workmen and with assistance of some Maori, the buildings and the bulk of sawn timber were saved. The fire was still raging next day. A large amount of timber available for mining purposes was destroyed.

7 December, 1897: large bush fires, driven by a gale, were raging at Tearai and Mullett Point, Whangarei. The Mullett Point scboolhouse was burned. The burnt area was three miles wide.

31 December, 1897: A fire blew up at about 1 pm at a mining site near Round Hill, Southland. It savaged the township, destroying 14 houses, and the remainder of the settlement was only saved by coupling the pipes of a sluicing company as an improvised delivery, and deluging the threatened buildings.A strong north westerly wind blew the fire down the track toward Colac Bay, arriving about 4 pm. Two sawmills, two huts and a moulding shed were destroyed. The fire spread to the railway goods sheds, which were also burned. The entire township was only saved by the exertions of the residents. The township of Wakapatu was also threatened. Later in the afternoon the wind changed, and the path of the fire ran above Oraki about a mile, and up the Longwood Range, the summit of which it appeared to have reached on the afternoon of the 2nd. 

4 January: a fire in the Seaward Bush, near Invercargill, destroyed four huts and placed the mill in danger. Also near Invercargill, at Waikiwi, a dairyman, fearing that the bush fire would take his house, removed his furniture, but the fire passed the first and took the latter. Strong winds were blowing.

7 February: The State Forest at Mareretu, near Whangarei, that held an immense quantity of valuable kauri, was on fire from end to end.

11 Marcha bush fire is raging in the Pukekohe district, destroyed a settler's house two miles out from the village..