The Department of Conservation (DOC) says it’s still too early to know the full extent of damage to public conservation land from a devastating fire at Emerald Bay on Wānaka’s Glendhu Bluff.
The fire, which began on 9 January, was contained by Fire and Emergency New Zealand after four days but continues to be closely monitored.
Two hundred and eighty hectares of land burned within a 7.1 km perimeter – a mix of private, retired and Department of Conservation (DOC) land. Exact figures for the percentage of DOC land affected are still being investigated, the Department said.
“Miraculously, Diamond Lake and The Rocky Summit Track were untouched,” says Pou Matarautaki DOC Operations Manager Central Otago, Nikki Holmes.
Diamond Lake is heavily used by the public for short walks and rock climbing.
“It is a really special track, literally hand built, initially by Stuart Landsborough of Puzzling World fame, and later by DOC. It has immense importance to local people and visitors,” she said.
Most of the damage to DOC land appears to be to Hospital Flat and Glendhu Bluffs, areas which were retired to DOC by the Macrae family, whose neighbouring Glendhu Station also suffered loss due to the fire.
“The greatest impact of this fire is likely the loss of mature lowland forest in a region where examples of this forest type are rare.”
“These conservation areas give public access to a lowland forest ecosystem in a region dominated by beech forest or drylands/grasslands.”
At this stage, DOC staff have not been able to undertake a survey of vegetation lost in the fire, nor determine the ongoing ecological impact the fire may have.
“Many of the plants present were mature, so regaining the same condition would take many years. We are not aware of any threatened native fauna in the fire area, but we know it has been a habitat for bird species such as fantail/piwakawaka, grey warblers, bellbird/korimako, pipits and introduced species like sparrows, skylarks and blackbirds. The rocky areas combined with grassland and shrubland habitat likely provided habitat for common skink and gecko species,” said Ms Holmes.
An investigation will be carried out by an ecologist once it’s safe to access the land, she said.
“We would like to acknowledge the incredible efforts of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, helicopter operators, fire volunteers, and DOC staff, neighbouring landowners who allowed us to use their paddock as a heli pad, locals who dropped off food and beverages for the fire fighters, and everyone behind the scenes who helped out – Ngā mihi nui, thank you.”
The cause of the Emerald Bay fire is being investigated by a Fire and Emergency investigator.