1907-08 Fires

Damage done during this season was over more regions, and over a longer time scale, that the devastating 1898 season. The country was again gripped in drought. In mid-January, Hawkes Bay was complaining that practcially no rain had fallen since October, and even Reefton on the West Coast had had no rain since mid-November. Whereas the 1898 summer fires were dominated by a single northerly gale over two days in January, the fires in January and February of 1908 were driven by variable wind conditions. There was a brief period of strong SE or S  winds starting about the 16 January, and temperatures dropped. Some rain ensued in some districts. By the 22nd, the wind had abated, and  was initially tending from the east in Canterbury, and NW further north. The NW became strong about the 15 February, and was replaced by a southerly gale that blew through over two days from about the 18th February. This caused major problems, particularly in Taranaki. The gale fell away, and the final blast of the season was a NW gale that blew in about 27 February, and later brought welcome rain generally throughout the whole of the country.

map of 1907- 08 fires

 By 27 February 1908, an insurance company reckoned that at least 500 farmers had been burnt out. The persistent drought had seen an extraordinary run on beer! The season saw the loss of 50 houses, 11 saw mills, 8 other buildings or businesses, and a large number of sheds and outbuildings. Wairaprapa Bush suffered worst. In the aftermath, court cases for damages began. Applications for assistance with grass seed suggest that the Wellington Region, which would include the Wairarapa, suffered the greatest lost of grazing land. Wellington received 212 tonne, Auckland 99 t, Marlborough 33 t, Taranaki 26 t, Hawkes Bay 18 t, Nelson 17 t, and Southland 357 kg1.

Otago - Southland

28 November, 1907: there was a bush fire burning driven 2 miles by a NW wind in the ranges near South Riverton. A shower of rain suppressed it.

3 January, 1908: the Waikaia Bush, some 50 km north of Gore was set on fire.

10 January: fire was burning in the Longwood Bush, between Riverton and Colac Bay.

16 January: Oamaru received some good rain.

22 January: a mill at Waikaia was destroyed by a bush fire.

28 January: fires raged in virgin bush around Otautau, destroying several houses and a mile. Another was saved by a wind change.

29 January: a bush fire, a mile long, jumped the river at Waipori, and destroyed 3 buildings, including a disused sawmill, of Dunedin City's new hydroelectric station (online 24 April 1907). In an overnight battle, 3 houses were saved. The concrete power house was not threatened, and the fire moved on.

22 February: it was so dry around Oamaru that stubble fires were being started by passing trains.

West Coast

15 January: bush fires were raging in the Grey Valley.

20 February: a bush fire swept down the Inangahua Gorge destroying Reefton's water and hydroelectric power supply. 

28 February: Reefton Brigade saved houses on the outskirts of the town.

Canterbury

15 January: there was a fire in the Cashmere Hills above Christchurch that trapped and badly burnt one of the Park staff. He died on the 17th. A grass fire started 5 miles from Hororata at 11 am, and driven by a SE breeze, swept 30,000 to 40,000 acres. This fire was alleged to have started in some phosphorus used to kill rabbits. A bush fire started at Kowai Bush, near Springfield, and over the next week burnt at least 1,000 acres of tussock, possibly reaching the peak of Mt Torlesse, and setting fire to bush at Patterson's Creek, east of Springfield.

16 January: Ashburton received some good rain.

21 January: in spite of the efforts of 30 men, the saw mill and 5 cottages were destroyed at Patterson's Creek. 

22 January: the fire that destroyed Patterson's Creek bush crossed the Waimakariri River, and spread to the Oxford Forest. The jump was made in the face of a strong NW wind. There was a large bush fire on the Cora Lynn Estate at the Bealey Spur. Grass fires were burning between Lyttelton and Governor's Bay, and also in the  Westerfield and Hinds district near Ashburton. The most serious fire was one around Lauriston that extended to 1,000 acres of pasture and took many outbuildings. 100's of men fought this.

23 January: the Kowai bush fire had spread to bush at Woodstock, and another fire had started on View Hill.  A wind change to the east at 2 pm stopped fire spread. However, fearing a repeat of the disastrous Oxford fires of January 1898, settlers were preparing for a resumption of the fight. The Patterson's Creek fire had moved uphill, burning bush about Staircase Gully and on Mt Torlesse estate.

24 January: the easterly wind drove the fires threatening Oxford back towards the Waimakariri.

25 January: a little rain fell and, with no wind, the fires west of Oxford appeared extinguished around Patterson's Creek and Kowai Bush, and quietly burning in the hills.

1 February: Christchurch received 1 mm rain; it was the only rain to fall in this month.

Nelson - Marlborough

10 January: a grass fire on Bankhouse Run, in the Waihopai Valley, burnt plantations surrounding the homestead, and destroyed the stables. 50 men tackled the blaze which extended up the Waihopai several miles to Valleyfield and covered 2,500 acres. 

12 January: A farm house and standing bush was lost at Wangapeka due to a sudden wind change.

15 January: a bush fire burnt fallen bush at Stanleybrook.

16 January: the range of hills between Wai-iti and Belgrove was burnt, and there was another fire burning at the head of the Trass valley. The fires were claimed as the worst to hit the Wangapeka and Sherry districts.

17 January: a cold front passed through, and the wind turned SE, but no rain fell. Hosing restrictions were in place in Nelson. An extensive bush fire was burning on the other side of the Maungatapu.

22 January: a saw mill in Pigeon Valley, Wai-iti, was destroyed. 2,000 acres of grass was burnt in the  Whangapeka valley, and there was fire in the Motueka valley. A strong SE breeze drove a bush fire over the Tadmor Hills towards Tapawera. The wind switched back to the north. Fire was still burning in the Trass Valley.

24 January: as well as fires in the Motueka district, bush and grass fires were burning at Marahau, and the Graham and Riwaka Valleys.

25 January: south of Collingwood, a saw mill at Aorere and a dairy at Bainham were destroyed. Fires revived at Stanleybrook, Dovedale, Wangapeka and elsewhere. New grass fires were started at Wai-iti from train sparks. 2,000 acres were lost at Whangare and Croixelles. A house was lost at Upper Tadmor, and that fire was still spreading. A fire began near the copper mine in the Aniseed Valley.

27 January: a creamery was lost in the Takaka district. Fire was on either side of the road at Korere, and a homestead was burnt at Kohatu.

30 January: a threatening fire was burning at Motupiko; a large band of men were at work on it.

Wellington - Horowhenua

13 January: Silverstream valley, S of Upper Hutt burns, unattended.

16 January: A fire was burning in Wainuiomata. It was subdued when Wellington received some good rain.

25 January: bush at Kaitoke was set alight by a train. The fire was small.

14 February: fire was still smouldering on ridges around Wainuiomata, and had partly worked its way in waterworks reserve that supplies Wellington.

15 February: grass fires break out at Te Horo and Manukau, near Otaki, alleged by a train. Wilton's Bush in Wellington was on fire.

16 February: a rising NW wind enlivened fire in bush bounding the Wellington suburb of Khandallah. There was confusion about bringing in outside help, and the Khandallah Bush was almost wholly destroyed by fire. The wind later turned to the south.

18 February: bush was on fire on the opposite of the harbour to Wellington. An account of the subsequent fire fighting efforts above Days Bay is available.

19 February: fires were burning from Paekakariki north to Otaki. Four houses and a stables were lost. A house was lost at Levin. A settler related experiences in Reikorangi, inland from Waikanae, where a cottage and two bridges were destroyed.

20 February: the whole countryside from Waikanae to Shannon was a series of fires on the eastern side of the rail. There was grave concern over the swamps catching, ruining the flax industry. 150 acres of swamp was lost at Tokomaru; precautions were in place, including patrols. 

21 February: Korokoro Bush, Petone, was vigorously burning. The remnants of the Wadestown Bush were being patrolled.

23 February: a bush fire in Wainuiomata was suppressed by Council workers using beaters.

Wairarapa - Bush

9 January: log and grass fires started at Hastwell and Mangamahoe, west of Mt Bruce. The creamery at Hastwell was burnt, along with several outbuildings.

10 January: large grass fire swept along the Tararua Range in the vicinity of Mt Holdsworth. There were 100s of dead trout in the Maungaterere Stream. A saw mill and 7 houses were destroyed by a bush fire at Mt Bruce. The families had evacuated to Masterton on the previous evening, after burying their possessions.

11 January: bush fires were extending along the Tararua Range intermittently from Mt Holdsworth to Mt Bruce, then east to Hastwells, Kaiparoro and Nireaha, then to Newman, and across to the Mangatainoka block. Between Konini and Hamua, the fire line extended 80 km along the lower ranges of the Tararuas, including Konini, Hamua and 9 km in the Mangamahoe valley. The fire was a slow 3 days in travelling the 7 km between Kaiparoro to Mangamahoe, but a gale on the evening of the 10th blew the fire up, and caught settlers unaware. The area around Pongaroa had been ravaged by a bush fire, started when a farmer was cremating a dead beast. The area SW through to Haunui was affected, and NE to Waione was burning.

16 January: after two days of calm, the wind freshened fires. A sawmill, with huts, stables and cookhouse, were destroyed at Makotuku, S of Norsewood. At Hukanui, 2 houses were destroyed, while a threatened saw mill was saved. A slight shower and wind change eased the danger that night.

17 January: cold day after a period of very hot weather. Fires checked. The heat was back on the 19th.

21 January: 5 farms in the Ngamoko Valley and 2 bridges on the road west between Ngamoko and Norsewood were reported as burnt. Sparks from the Tararuas ignited grass on the West Taratahi Plains.A house, 7 huts and 7 bridges were lost. The hills were blazing from Fernside to Mikimiki. Fires have crept down the Maungaterere Valley to the flats at Belvedere, west of Carterton. Wind had changed from S to NW and freshened. The cheese factory at Nireaha, west of Eketahuna, was threatened, and the manager's house was destroyed, along with the school and 6 other houses. Fire came within 20 m of the store and post office. There were large fires in Mangaoranga, Putara and Ihuraua districts. Spot fires on vacant section within Eketahuna were being extinguished. Fires were spreading around Newman. About 1,000 acres and a wool shed were lost at Alfredton, and a house at Putara.

22 January:  a change in wind to the west would have driven a large fire onto Eketahuna; they were already close to Parkville that was within the borough.

23 January: light rain fell, giving respite.

25 January: on-site timber for a new bridge over the Waihi River was overrun by fire. 

29 January: land on Matahiwi station was on fire.

6 February: a large fire started in the Waiohine Valley.

10 February: a house was destroyed at Mangamahoe. Rolling stock was removed to safety from Hukanui and Newman rail stations. A fire started on a Government Forest Reserve in the Matahiwi Valley. 

11 February: fire was raging on both sides of the railway line between Eketahuna and Pahiatua.

12 February: a mill was destroyed at Hukanui.

17 February: the Matahiwi escalated over the past two days. A fire in the Lower Mikimiki Valley was causing settlers problems.

27 February: a NW gale fanned smouldering fires around Eketahuna.

1 March: a homestead at the foot of Mt Holdsworth was destroyed. The Kaituna district was affected by the gale-driven fires. A house and outbuildings were destroyed by a bushfire at Dalefield, near Carterton. Two mills and several huts were lost at Putara and Atea, west of Eketahuna. Another mill further north at Kakariki was saved, but 3 workers cottages were lost.

2 March: heavy rain about 1:30 am at Mt Holdsworth and Carterton.

Manawatu - Rangitikei

14 January: Pohangina Valley was ablaze, and there were slash fires between Awahou South to beyond Komako, at the head of the valley.

20 January: serious bushfires around Taihape, Winiata, Utiku, Mataroa and Ohakune. Taihape was founded in 1894.

22 January: fire was burning in the Manawatu Gorge, fiercest at the Woodville end.

5 February: the creamery at Table Flat was destroyed, and fires were burning in the Apiti and Rangiwahia districts.

12 February: there were fires in the Waimarino district, around Ohakune and Rangataua. One house and outbuildings were lost, and the Maunganui-a-te-ao Valley was ablaze, as was Mataroa. Fires are raging from the Makatote viaduct to the Taonui viaduct. A factory and a shop at Horopito were destroyed. Maunganui-a-te-ao was where the last spike was driven for the North Island Main Trunk rail line later that year. Logging in the area had begun around 1900.

14 February: grass fires broke out in the Pohangina Valley on Delamere Flat and Upper Pohangina. 1,000's of acres were burnt at Awahou South. Fires were still burning in theManawatu Gorge.

15 February: the Kiwitea County was on fire, with fire practically everywhere between the Rangitikei and Kiwitea Rivers. A house had been lost at Parapara, and the school at Kawhatau was saved with difficulty.

17 February: stock feed was a problem around Fielding, and fires were still burning. Fire made it to the southern bank of the Oroua River and threatened to cross into Fielding. A fire, burning on a hillside east of  Shannon, spread rapidly and jumped the railway into the Makerua Swamp. 

19 February: fires around Raetihi were freshened by a strong wind from the south. This also enlivened the fires in the Manawatu Gorge.

20 February: fire swept over the Ohura-Raetihi road, burning whares. The Ohakune-Raetihi road was burning, as were several sections of the Parapara road. Whares were lost at Ohura.

22 February: there were tales of escape from bush fires west of Raetihi. A house and wool shed were lost. The whole district between Rangiwahia and Kawhatau, SE of Mangaweka, was on fire.

Hawkes Bay - East Coast

11 January: extensive grass and log fires were burning inland from Gisborne. Settlers were pleased, as they were doing welcome clearing.

14 January: a bushfire destroyed a house at Motu, East Coast, and threatened another. The fire had started in some fallen bush on the 9th, threatened a house one mile away on the 10th, and, with a wind change, had moved on another 3-4 miles by the 14th. 

21 January: a bushfire raged in a gully near Makaretu; there was another at Ashley Clinton. At 10 am, the SE wind shifted to a boisterous SW. Bush and grass fires at Pohui, Puketitiri and other places were blanketing Napier in smoke. Several farm houses were reported as destroyed at Waipawa. There were grass fires near Crissoge, and between Te Aute and Waimarama. 

23 January: the Pohui fire destroyed a timber mill and 3 cottages. Bridges were being saved by removing decking timber.

19 February: miles and miles of bush country was burning in the northern Wairoa district. Several big dried swamps were on fire..

Taranaki

18 January: about 1,000 acres of grass were on fire around Stratford.

20 January: high winds in the previous three days spread grass and bush fires. A house at Rahotu was destroyed, and a sawmill near Opunake threatened. A house at Uruti was destroyed on the 19th.

9 February: wind blew up a smouldering burn that had been lit a week before, NW of Kaponga. It swept through a strip 2 miles wide by 4 miles long (2,000 ha), destroying a house and several sheds.

13 February: fires were raging in the district north and west of Mt Egmont. Two houses were lost on Kahui Rd.

18 February: a southerly gale freshened fires, and there was little contact possible with the affected areas. It was known that fires were raging at Oaonui, Egmont Village,  Ratanui, and Puniho to the south of New Plymouth, and Tongaporutu, Uruti and Awakino to the north. 

19 February: a saw mill and house had been destroyed near Egmont Village. A house was lost near Rahotu. Warea school pupils were trapped at school overnight. Fires were continuing in North Taranaki.

20 February: wind dropped, conditions eased.

25 February: while the Taranaki fires have been extensive, actual property losses were not thought to be high.

Waikato - Coromandel

23 January: some square miles bush around Rangihau and Kapowai blocks in the Coromandel had been burning for weeks. Huts and timber dams had been burnt. 

18 February: fire in the Maungakawa Bush threatened the Cambridge Sanatorium. The Waitere Valley bush near Waihi had been blazing since about the 14th, and the Mataura Valley was also on fire. There was a large fire burning in the kauri forest at Waitawhetu. Bush at Mauku and Puni, and swamps, east of Pukekohe were on fire. Waiuku is surrounded by burnt-out land. West of Rotorua, fire had got into the Mamaku Forest, and had swept clean between Mamaku and Arahiwi. An easterly gale was blowing. Clearings along the Arahiwi Rd were burnt, along with about 8 miles of railway fencing.

The Waitere Valley near Waihi was ablaze, and there was miles of valuable timber being burnt near Katikati. Great areas of the Piako Swamp (now the Hauraki Plains) were on fire. Forest SW of Waihi was burning and there were bush fires around Paeroa. 1,000s of acres of grass had been burnt in the Kawhia district with much loss of stock.

20 February: in a trip from Rotorua to Matamata, the Premier was twice stopped by burning on the road; at Mamaka and Putararu.

27 February: a house had been destroyed near Matamata by a bush fire. An old meeting house at Maungakawa, west of Matamata, was destroyed, along with historic relics of King Tawhaio.A line of fire, several miles long, was advancing across the Piako Swamp.  Several 1,000s of acres of grazing land across the Waikato from Huntly. known as Pepepe and Pukemiro districts, was burning. 

Auckland - Northland

16 February: Oparau and Kauroa, south of Raglan, suffered large bush fires. A house was thought lost at Kauroa. Grass was lost at Okete. Around Dargaville, swamps were on fire at Aoroa and Aratapu. The Gumtown district was also on fire.

18 February: large fires had been burning north of Auckland in the Hokianga, Whangaroa, Kaipara and Mangonui districts. A house was lost on the 11th near Helensville, and another some time later. The fire had been burning for two weeks.

Reference
1. Historical Branch, Dept of Internal Affairs, New Zealand Historical Atlas, David Bateman Ltd, 1997