Fire fear rises in Marlborough

This is potentially a very dangerous situation

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 11:32 14/12/2012
Karli Hopkins
Scott Hammond

Withers walker: Karli Hopkins of Blenheim says she is aware of the fire risk on the Wither Hills and usually carries a cellphone. Blenheim deputy principal rural fire officer John Foley recommends that people walk in the early morning and evening

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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.

NOVEMBER RAINFALL

Waikawa 63.5mm

Rai Valley 65mm

Wakamarina 63.5mm

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

Onamalutu 32.5mm

Flaxbourne, Ward 32mm

Red Hills, northbank of Wairau 32mm

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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

Rarangi 22mm

Narrows, Wairau Valley 19.5mm

The Branch, Wairau Valley 18.5mm

Wye, Wairau Valley 14.5mm

Blenheim 10mm

Molesworth 9.6mm 

- The Marlborough Express

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