Limitoo News

'Extraordinary place': Iwi fearful of fire damage to Waituna Wetland

The head of Te Rūnaka o Awarua says the Southland wetlands currently burning are extremely significant with tīpuna (ancestors) buried nearby.

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Photo: Supplied / Ngāi Tahu

The fire has spread through at least 1300 hectares of mānuka scrub and peat soils at Awarua.

Low temperatures and dew helped to contain the fire overnight, and Fire and Emergency has nine helicopters and nine ground crews on the fire ground today.

Te Rūnaka o Awarua Kaiwhakahaere Dean Whaanga said the Waituna Wetland was used by generations of Awarua tīpuna as a giant food basket to feed whānau living at nearby settlements, and was home to many memories and traditions.

"I have strong memories of visiting this extraordinary place while growing up and feeling the mauri (life force) of the whenua and awa," he said.

"Our tīpuna had extensive knowledge of whakapapa, traditional trails and tauranga waka [canoe landing places], places for gathering kai and other taoka, as well as ways to use the resources of Waituna.

"Because this area was so important to our rūnaka, there are many urupā and wāhi tapu sites near Waituna where our tīpuna are buried. These are places holding the memories, traditions, victories and defeats of Kāi Tahu tīpuna."

Awarua tīpuna regularly harvested their cultural materials as well including paru or black mud for making dyes.

He said the rūnaka was thankful for the efforts of firefighters.

"We will have to wait until the fire is extinguished to fully understand what has been lost," Whaanga said.

"It's incredibly sad some of the taoka species found here will have likely died in the fire, but we're comforted knowing the landscape will heal over time.

"We will ensure we continue to pass down the kōrero of our tīpuna about this special place to future generations of our whānau."

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Photo: Supplied / Ngāi Tahu

Firefighters were preparing for gusty conditions hampering efforts to extinguish the blaze.

Incident controller Mark Mawhinney said on Tuesday afternoon he was pleased with the progress they had made.

The weather forecast predicts southwest winds between 75 to 90kmh with possible gusts of 100kmh.

Waituna residents may see more smoke in the air tomorrow as the conditions increase the chance of the fire becoming more active, he said.

People should stay away from the area.

Fire crews will be back on site tomorrow morning.

Fire and Emergency was urging people not to fly drones near the fire after one was spotted.

"This will result in helicopters having to be grounded, impacting firefighting efforts."

Environment Southland has raised concerns about the flora and fauna losses.

Its integrated catchment management general manager Paul Hulse, said the fire was in a wetland of international significance and the losses could potentially be devastating.

"As well as the close-knit Waituna community, the wider Southland community will be upset to see the fire burning in close proximity," Hulse said.

"While Southland remains in a drought situation, Fire and Emergency NZ has confirmed that the water being used to control the fire comes from tarns within the wetland, the Waituna Lagoon and the sea."

Waituna Wetland was formally recognised by a statutory acknowledgement in the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.