Woken to find farm on fire

Clearer picture of the damage done by last night's fire
Clearer picture of the damage done by last night's fire

A neighbour phoning in the middle of the night to say a hillside above his home were on fire was a sharp reminder of the Boxing Day fire which raced through his 640ha farm in 2000, says Dave Western.

Mr Western suspects a Marlborough Lines powerline was the likely cause of the fire which burned through 7ha of his Sixteen Valley property, on SH1 south of Blenheim.  

This powerline and the national grid nearby meant it was too dangerous for a helicopter to help with fire-fighting in the dark although pilot Owen Dodson of Marlborough Helicopters was there at first light with a monsoon bucket.

Fire in Sixteen Valley
Fire in Sixteen Valley

''Fortunately, by then it wasn't needed,'' Mr Western said.

In the dark of the night the fire looked worse than it was, he said.  

Fire crews had the flames under control by 5.30am then focused on hot spots, he said.

Fire near Blenheim
Fire near Blenheim

''The rural firefighters were very well organised and well supervised.  There was nothing willy nilly, everything was planned.'' Rural fire chief Richard McNamara said yesterday afternoon

''With an easterly breeze kicking in and heat building up if anything's going to pop it will be now.'' 

A thermal camera owned by the Marlborough Kaikoura Rural Fire Authority would be flown over the block just before dark tonight, looking for hot spots.

Close to 60 rural fire volunteers from Rarangi, Linkwater, Blenheim, Waihopai Valley, the Awatere and Ward had fought the fire then guarded against it spread, he said.  

Rural fire investigators were on-site, looking for clues of its cause.  

Mr Western said a southbound truck driver dialled 111 after spotting the fire at about 1.30am on Wednesday morning, then waited for help to arrive. 

The Boxing Day Fire in 2000 ''totalled'' his 640ha Riverina Farm including 40ha of forestry, he said. 

While the fire risk was high, Mr Western thought there was less long, dry grass than in 2000 and pasture alongside SH1 and the railway line was being grazed back more tightly.  

Marlborough Lines operations manager Brian Tapp said staff had visited firefighters' basecamp but would stay away from where they were working until the job was done.  

The company had diverted power from the line crossing the site so fire-fighters were not put at risk.  

This meant diverting supply to customers in Seddon and Ward. No customers lost power during the blaze.

Marlborough Lines would not be involved in finding the cause of the blaze, Mr Tapp said.

The Marlborough Express