Fire danger at a peak, official warns

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 11:30 08/01/2013
Richard McNamara
Derek Flynn

Prepare, prevent, protect: Marlborough principal rural fire officer Richard McNamara is concerned about what he sees from the carpark of the Wither Hills Farm Park in Blenheim. The region’s high fire risk has prompted him to ensure that key fire crew, heavy tankers and helicopters are ready to go in case of a fire.

Fire
TIME TO GO - BOXING DAY 2000: Volunteers helping fight the flames of the Boxing Day fire in the Wither Hills run as the fire gets out of control. Moments later the tree in the background was destroyed.

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People in Marlborough are being warned to go carefully in areas such as the Wither Hills Farm Park, in Blenheim, an area Marlborough's rural fire manager describes as "a death trap" prone to fires in the current hot and windy weather conditions.

Principal rural fire officer Richard McNamara said high temperatures, strong winds and tinder-dry grass were the worst possible conditions for fire in the district.

"These are the worst conditions we could possibly have," he said.

He urged people to check machinery such as lawnmowers and farm equipment and transportation, including quad bikes and motorbikes, before use and to be careful while they ran. "All it takes is a spark off a bit of machinery and the grass will ignite."

Similarly, no fires should be lit in the northeastern areas of the region and people using recreational areas such as the Wither Hills Farm Park should go there only early in the morning or in the evening, he said.

"If a fire gets going in there right now, it's a death trap. The fire will outrun anything and everything."

Latest weather predictions from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) suggest temperature, rainfall, soil moisture levels and river flows for Marlborough through to March will be average.

However, this information was deceptive for many people new to Marlborough.

A normal summer season for the region was dry weather and heat of about 30 degrees Celsius, conditions that had returned and would continue until about March, after several years of wetter and cooler seasons, Mr McNamara said.

"Locals know about it but a lot of new people to the region don't," he said.

Those who knew of the fire danger needed to be a good neighbour and let others know.

He asked that people take all precautions and be mindful of fire risk in everything they did.

"Ninety-eight per cent of fires in New Zealand are started by people," he said.

"People need to be careful and need to bear in mind that we live in a fire-prone environment."

Meanwhile, Marlborough District Council operations and maintenance engineer Stephen Rooney said water restrictions in Renwick were continuing, after being in place since last month.

Council maintenance engineers were monitoring aquifer levels every day and would decide early next week whether to continue the restrictions.

They were also watching aquifer levels at Havelock, he said.

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- The Marlborough Express

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