Tractor used to roll out the flames

IAN ALLEN
Last updated 07:06 09/01/2013
Fire
Scott Hammond

Good save: Rural fire crews hose down a motocross track that caught fire on the Dillon’s Waihopai Valley farm in Marlborough yesterday

David Dillon
Scott Hammond
Cheers: Waihopai Valley farmer David Dillon takes some drinks to firefighters after they put out a blaze on his farm yesterday

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A fire at a motocross track in the Waihopai Valley yesterday could easily have spread into surrounding farmland, a fire chief says.

Marlborough deputy principal rural fire officer John Foley said the fire was prevented from spreading by the lack of grass on motocross dirt tracks and quick thinking from the property owner.

The blaze came as fire authorities continue to warn of the extreme fire danger in Marlborough caused by hot and windy weather, which is forecast to continue until March.

Farm owner David Dillon said he was worried other parts of the property on Avondale Rd would catch fire so drove his tractor over the flames to put them out.

"Those tyres are a lot better than a sack," he said. "You can cover some country [in a tractor]."

A farmhand sprayed the fire using their water tank, Mr Dillon said.

His son raised the alarm when he noticed the blaze about 4pm.

"I went up initially in the truck and thought ‘Boy, the whole range is going to go'. The whole gully was full of blue-white smoke," Mr Dillon said.

The blaze was also headed towards a vineyard on the property.

"Providence was on my shoulder," he said.

Mr Foley said about 20 firefighters tackled the blaze, including rural fire crews from Waihopai and Blenheim and the Renwick Volunteer Fire Brigade. It took them about 30 minutes to control the blaze. He was unsure what caused the fire.

"It had potential to be a lot bigger. Once we were told it was on a hill we were concerned but the wind also changed direction and blew the fire back onto itself. That slowed it up. It was a good save by the fire crews."

Mr Foley also praised Mr Dillon and his staff.

"They had the sprayer going trying to knock down some of the flames. They did well."

When the fire was out, Mr Dillon drove back with a hamper of drinks for the fire crews.

"I was impressed how quickly the fire crews got here. I can't thank them enough."

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

He urged people to go carefully in areas such as the Wither Hills Farm Park, in Blenheim, which would be "a death trap" if anyone was caught by a fire there.

He said people should check machinery such as lawnmowers, farm equipment and transportation, including quad bikes and motorbikes, before use and to be careful while they were running.

"All it takes is a spark off a bit of machinery and the grass will ignite."

People should also not be lighting fires in the open.

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- The Marlborough Express

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