Kaimaumau fire described as “catastrophic ecological disaster” for nearly extinct species

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A dozen plant species from the Far North Canton were already on the verge of extinction before the fire, Baigent-Mercer said.

“There are ferns that are really close to extinction, there is a tiny mistletoe growing on kānuka, and there are orchids.

“One of the orchids has not even been named by scientists yet and there is only one photograph of it in bloom in the world.”

The wetland is one of Te Tai Tokerau’s “natural wonders”, he said.

“There’s the Northland mudfish, which obviously only lives here. There’s the Australasian bittern which is now classified as nationally critical, in terms of proximity to extinction, so it’s similar to kākāpō in terms of numbers.

“There’s also the Northland green gecko and the Aupouri gecko and they’re really special creatures.”

Baigent-Mercer said the fire would have spread too quickly for some to escape, especially nesting birds.

“There are nesting birds out there right now as well as all this other special wildlife. Who knows this is going to stick, but it’s probably not a good picture at all.”

While next year’s spring growth would show which species have survived, he said the wetland is now at risk of weed invasion.

Forest and Bird expects the ecological damage from the fire to be similar to that of the Australian bushfires in 2019.

The blaze was only 200 meters from some houses and forced some of them to evacuate, but they were able to return home yesterday.

Fire crews will be working over Christmas and New Years to control and mop up the blaze.

Baigent-Mercer said the firefighters sacrificing their Christmas to put out the blaze were “national heroes.”

Campers will be banned from Kaimaumau on this holiday to reduce the risk of further fires and to avoid evacuation issues.

Fire crews are carrying out a controlled burn in Kaimaumau to remove 15 ha of vegetation, which they hope will remove fuel for the forest fires near the seaside village.

RNZ

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