Taupo 1946

Following a prolonged drought, a fire, thought to have been started from a cigarette butt thrown into scrub, broke out alongside the Wairakei-Oruanui Road in the Taupo region on 7 February 1946. Fanned by a strong wind, it ran towards the Waikato River. Next day, it crossed the Waikato River south of the Aratiatia Rapids and threatened the Taupo township. With fire encircling the town of Taupo, an urgent call for assistance went out on Feb. 9. The Wellington Fire Brigade2 despatched a hose layer, equipped with a ppump, and this was followed soon after by a second hoslayer and a water unit. Each of these appliances towed trailer pumps, and the trucks were manned by two officers and six men. Auckland also responded firefighters, and Defence personnel came from Waiouru. 

On 9 February the wind changed and the fire travelled north-east, ultimately sweeping both sides of the Waikato River towards Reporoa. Atiamuri was evacuated at 5pm on the 9th. The fire was to rage for days, in spite of the efforts of 1600 firefighters. A flare-up in the Kaingaroa Stae Forest would have again threatened Taupo but for a wind change. By the 16th, 9 days after the fire start, falling wind strength and temperatures eased conditions, and the operation went into mop-up phase. Pearce and Alexander retrospectively examnined the fire weather that prevailed at the fire.

This fire (also called the Tahorakuri Fire), in the space of a few days, swept over more than 250,000 acres of country and destroyed about 30,000 acres of young afforestation company plantations, mostly radiata pine. It was the largest planation fire in either New Zealand or Australia (however, since then, the Black Saturday fires of 7 Feb. 2009 in the Central Highlands region of Victoria burnt about 50,000 ha of production forests, half of which was mature).  Wwhile the Taupo fire was burning, firefighters were busy with vegetation fires all over the country. Auckland had a large grass fire in Mt Eden, and Dargaville had 5,000 ha of scrub ablaze.

Taupo fire,  1946

There is a film (right) that provides an overview of the Taupo fire.

1. G McLean, New Zealand Tragedies, Fires and Firefighting, Grantham House, 1992
2. R. Monigatti, From Bells to Blazes, ABD Clark, 1965