Portobello firefighters were called to Okia Flat about 9pm on Monday because a fire had been lit on the sand by a man who was camping overnight, after kayaking to the southeast end of the beach, Station Officer Jamie Ramsay said. ''The fire was on the sand, at the very end of the inlet part of the beach, where there is certainly no fires allowed,'' he said.
Although the man was ''doing everything as safely as possible'', the risk for a campfire to spread remained too great. ''It's just far too risky to even contemplate lighting a fire. Sparks could have [gone] into the grass, which is tinder dry at the moment,'' he said. ''There is an endangered species down there, so even smoking poses a phenomenal risk.''
The campfire had been extinguished by the time firefighters arrived at the remote location.
A fire appliance could not get to the beach, so a different vehicle had to be used. Firefighters spent 90 minutes responding to the incident.
A male tourist was labelled an idiot by Department of Conservation (Doc) volunteers after he lit a campfire at Sandfly Bay, near the threatened colony. Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said the fire on Monday was the ''last thing'' the colony needed, and trust members were concerned. ''It is a strict no-fire zone anyway, but habitats are even more vulnerable at the moment because of the dry conditions. The fact that it's neighbouring a penguin breeding area gives rise to concern as well,'' she said.
Earlier this month, it was discovered about 60 yellow-eyed penguin adults had died along the Otago Peninsula. The cause is being investigated.