Total fire ban in place

A total fire ban for the Marlborough District Council area south of the Wairau River started yesterday.

It is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Marlborough Kaikoura Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Richard McNamara said there had been very little rainfall over the last few weeks.

The grasslands south of the Wither Hills down to the Molesworth Station were particularly dry and of major concern, Mr McNamara said. "You just have to look down there and you can see all the grasslands are drying out and susceptible to fire," he said.

The dead grass could dry out quickly again even after a rainy spell, he said. "After two or three days you can get a fire back into those grasslands.

"We are lucky in that rain to the north and west [has] kept the commercial and native forests reasonably good [damp], beyond the Wairau township."

Residents could still use gas barbecues in their back gardens, but camp fires, wood fires and stoves were banned, Mr McNamara said.

"We will only put it on as long as we have to," he said. "We don't want to penalise people, it is put in place to protect everybody. If we get a period of long and persistent rain or the temperature drops off we will certainly lift it."

Wind, high temperatures and low humidity were most likely to spark a fire and February was normally the hottest month, he said.

The Marlborough Express