Exclusive area feels heat of grass fire

19:00, Nov 29 2012
Wither Hills Fire
Close call: About 20 firefighters and at least five members of the public battled to put out the fire spreading up the Wither Hills in Blenheim yesterday.

A helicopter and four fire trucks rushed to put out a grass fire that threatened to spread up the Wither Hills in Blenheim yesterday, sparking memories of the devastating Boxing Day fires a decade ago.

Firefighters were called out to Dry Hills Ln in the exclusive housing subdivision of Dry Hills Estate at 4.15pm.

The crackling sound of the flames working their way up the hill was audible from at least 300 metres away.

Deputy principal rural fire officer John Foley said the fire had spread from a controlled burn of dry bushes on the headland of the vineyard.

"It was fairly breezy and still quite dry," he said. "Once it got onto the long grass, it was going to spread."

The fire burnt through dry grass to within 20 metres of a house at the bottom of the hill, but a green lawn provided some protection and the house was not threatened, Mr Foley said.


The property owner watched from the bottom of the hill while a Marlborough helicopter, two rural tankers and two fire trucks from Blenheim worked for about an hour to contain the fire.

Another Dry Hills Estate resident said the flames could be seen creeping up the Wither Hills.

"With this sort of grass, it's like a wick off a firecracker."

The temperature had dropped to about 16 degrees Celcius when the fire started, but the hot, dry weather in Marlborough during the past three weeks had dried out the grass, changing it from a pale green to a scorched tan colour.

A helicopter arrived at 4.45pm and helped firefighters stop the fire from spreading further.

Five plastic irrigation tanks used for frost control were in the centre of the affected area but were largely undamaged.

Mr Foley said the fire was a reminder for people to think twice before lighting fires in the current conditions.

"People need to think if they really need to be burning now. Most of our fires have started from escaped controlled burns."

Ashes could smoulder for many months and be blown back into life on a hot, windy day, so he encouraged anyone who had managed a fire in the past five months to check on the site.

"Actually get in there and dig it up. It doesn't take much for it to escape."

The Marlborough Boxing Day fire in 2000 burned through 6000 hectares in the Wither Hills area.

The Marlborough Express