Fire risk hotting up

CARALISE TRAYES
Last updated 08:35 31/01/2013
ROD Fire

FRONTLINE FIREFIGHTERS: Rodney volunteer firefighters help at Great Barrier Island’s scrub fire on Auckland Anniversary weekend. From left: Martin Duytshoff from Kawau Island, Scott Noyes of Puhoi, Luke Bianca and Oliver Trottier of Matakana and Ian Creusen-Foot, Steve Lockett and Rob Beardmore from Puhoi.

ROD Fire
FIRE BAN: Dry conditions and the scrub fire that consumed 116ha of land on Great Barrier Island near Claris have prompted Auckland Council to put a total fire ban across the region until further notice.

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The big dry is here and the fire risk is extreme.

Rain is expected next week but may be insufficient.

Strong, mainly easterly winds have contributed to the conditions and can quickly fan fires.

A total Auckland-wide fire ban is in place but parks staff are still finding people lighting solid fuel barbecues and open fires in regional parks.

Gas or electric barbecues are available at the parks.

The Auckland Council's complete fire ban includes Rodney, Hibiscus Coast and all Hauraki Gulf islands.

The ban in rural and urban areas covers rubbish fires, bonfires, backyard braziers, cooking fires and fireworks.

"Both residents and visitors to the region will need to do their part by taking extra precautions and ensuring the ban is followed by everyone," principal rural fire officer Bryan Cartelle says.

Northern regional park ranger Mathew Vujcich says park beachfront and dunes are particularly vulnerable.

"They are very dry and very popular with visitors," Mr Vujcich says.

Several beach access roads from Wilson Rd in South Head are closed because of fire risks.

The council says grass is very dry in the area and vehicles passing through could cause a fire from hot exhausts or people discarding cigarette butts.

Six fire engines attended a scrub fire on the Woodhill Forest edge on Saturday.

Fire crews spent an hour bringing the fire under control on Rimmer and Coast roads.

Lack of rain has also taken a toll on the water table with Northland District Council calling for people to monitor water use and prepare for restrictions.

Shortages will affect the southern Kaipara district.

Northland will need about 80mm to 100mm of rain - effectively the average monthly rainfall for February - over the next few weeks to ease the situation.

Water suppliers are particularly busy topping up water tanks.

"We're flat out," Brian Field of Foleys Water says. He says Rodney is looking at a one-in-seven year drought. "People on tank supply should use water sparingly," he says. "Put a bucket in the shower and after showering tip the water on the garden. Don't run the tap while brushing your teeth."

Mr Field says Rodney paddocks are looking browner than he has seen for years.

Another busy water supplier is Gary Taylor of North Harbour Water Carriers whose five or six trucks are just keeping up with demand.

"We're still trying to do same-day service in Rodney from Kaukapakapa through to Dairy Flat, Coatesville, Riverhead, Okura and Greenhithe," he says.

"It's not as dry as it was about three years ago but there's no rain forecast here for a while," Mr Taylor says.

It isn't quite drought territory yet, livestock agent Duncan McNab of Helensville says. "It's dry and conditions could lead to a drought during the next three months but there's plenty of feed for stock," he says. "No-one's panicking."

Hay and maize crops are good and dairy farmers have begun feeding out, Mr McNab says.

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"South Head's dry but that's sand country. I don't think anyone's talking a real drought. It normally gets dry this time of year."

A big high over most of New Zealand is blocking other winds and that's why the weather hasn't changed, MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett says.

NIWA statistics show Auckland has received only 6mm of January rainfall compared to the normal 61mm.

"The high should break up over the weekend with more cloud coming with a northerly starting next week. There may be an odd shower on Sunday but nothing substantial. It may be 10 days or more until some rain comes," Mr Corbett says.

"For holiday-makers it's great but for farmers it's a bit difficult."

Anyone spotting a fire or smoke in bush, parks or reserve land should call the Fire Service immediately on 111.

- Rodney Times

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