The new year got off to an explosive start in Northland when a shed packed with 800kg of fireworks caught fire after a high-voltage power line crashed on to the property.
The shed on Kawakawa's Paihia Rd also contained the possum poison cyanide, sparking a major emergency response, firefighters and hazardous-materials experts racing from as far away as Whangarei. No toxins were believed to have escaped.
The blaze was Northland's most dramatic New Year's Eve emergency. Elsewhere, police reported plenty of alcoholfuelled disorder but few arrests, while a crash involving a car and a courtesy van on Kerikeri Rd saw three people airlifted to Whangarei Hospital.
Volunteer firefighters from Kawakawa, Paihia, Kerikeri and Kaikohe were called out just before 9.30pm on New Year's Eve when smoke was reported. Whangarei Fire Brigade sent a fire truck and its hazardous-materials command centre.
The shed was too dangerous to enter so firefighters let it burn for several hours while protecting a nearby house. About 11.30am another home, 200m down the same right-ofway, also caught fire. The ceiling-cavity fire could have been sparked by a power surge but it is still being investigated. Fireworks could be heard going off in the shed for almost four hours. Most firefighters were stood down by 2am yesterday, with the Kawakawa brigade returning at 8am to finish the job by daylight.
The Paihia Rd shed's owner, Hadyn Wills, was staying with his inlaws, partner and three daughters - twins aged 12 and another aged 9 - in Ahipara.
Mr Wills, a possum trapper who also sells fireworks for a living, said the cyanide was stored in lock-boxes and could not escape.
Ironically, he had just started organising a container to store his fireworks until next Guy Fawkes.
The sleepout/double garage also contained his tools, camping gear, family heirlooms and his daughters' artwork. Firefighters managed to shift a trailer and quad bike to safety.
Mr Wills said linemen had replaced three fuses at a transformer opposite his property two weeks ago. One of those fuses, connected to a powerline, was on his driveway when he got home. He was relieved the fire had happened while his daughters were in Ahipara. "That powerline could've hit any one of us and killed us," he said.
Kawakawa fire chief Wayne Martin said the first crew arrived to find the shed smoking and a powerline across the drive.
Neighbours warned the firefighters about the shed's contents, so they had waited for backup and for Top Energy to disconnect the line before attacking the fire.
"It was too dangerous to go in, given the amount of fireworks in there, and also knowing the occupant is a commercial possum trapper," Mr Martin said.
Two Paihia firefighters were decontaminated in case they had been exposed to hazardous chemicals.
Volunteer support officer Colin Kitchen paid tribute to the firefighters who had given up New Year's Eve celebrations and time with their families to help. "That's the true spirit of volunteering, 24/7," he said.