Fire fear rises in Marlborough
This is potentially a very dangerous situationPENNY WARDLE
Well below-average November rainfall has raised the risk of fires in Marlborough and slowed grass growth on farms.
The risk in the Wither Hills has prompted Blenheim deputy principal rural fire officer John Foley to urge people using the park to walk in the early morning and evening when a fire is least likely to start.
Marlborough District Council climate records show Molesworth Station at the top of the Awatere Valley was the driest place in Marlborough in November with 9.6mm rainfall, closely followed by Blenheim with 10mm.
Marlborough Kaikoura Rural Fire District general manager "Mac" McNamara said long grass left behind after three or four wet years had dried out creating fuel for fires.
However, the moisture levels in the grass was about three times higher than it was at this time in 2000, ahead of the Marlborough Boxing Day fire which burned through about 7000ha of pasture in the Wither Hills near Blenheim.
He calculated the moisture levels using a National Rural Fire Authority fuel dryness index.
Meanwhile, police and a rural fire district investigator were studying the possibility that an arsonist had lit three fires in the Taylor Pass area on Monday, Mr McNamara said.
"This is potentially a very dangerous situation to have someone lighting fires especially in an area frequented by the public," Mr McNamara said.
"The longer this is allowed to go on, the greater risk to the public and volunteer fire fighters."
Anyone who might have information on possible arson should ring the police, he said.
Mr McNamara also asked that contractors cutting hay not do the job at the hottest part of the day to avoid accidentally starting a fire.
Council weather records show in the Rai Valley dairying district, rainfall was about 30 per cent below average.
The council recorded 65mm of rain in Rai Valley and 62mm at nearby Tunakino which environmental scientist Val Wadsworth compared with the 195mm norm for the month. The wettest place was Waikawa, where 66.5mm of rain fell.
Dairy NZ top of the south dairy adviser Stephen Arends said 90 to 100mm of rain on December 5 rescued Marlborough dairy farmers from a dicey situation.
Farmers with good pasture control were reaping the benefits of fresh growth,but on properties where farmers had failed to keep pasture grazed back tight before the rain, feed was rank and of poor quality.
About half the dairy farms in Marlborough had irrigation, Mr Arends said.
The National Institute of Water and Atmosphere recorded New Zealand's highest November temperature at 30.1°C, on November 25.
Rai Valley 65mm
Tunakino, near Rai Valley 62mm
Te Rapa, near Kekerengu 60.5mm
Ramshead, upper Omaka Valley 47.5mm
Maling Pass, 45km south west of St Arnaud 44.5mm
Beneagle, Taylor Pass 41.5mm
Onamalutu hilltop 40.2mm
Awatere River 36.5mm
Readers Rd, near Havelock 36.5mm
Dashwood, lower Awatere 35.4mm
Top Valley, northbank of Wairau 32.5mm
Flaxbourne, Ward 32mm
Red Hills, northbank of Wairau 32mm
Taylor Pass landfill 31mm
Mt Misery, had of the Waima (Ure) 30mm
Tinpot, Tempello Station 29mm
Spray, Waihopai Valley 26mm
Ngaruru, Wairau Valley 26mm
Craiglochart, Waihopai Valley 22.5mm
Narrows, Wairau Valley 19.5mm
The Branch, Wairau Valley 18.5mm
Wye, Wairau Valley 14.5mm
- The Marlborough Express