Drying winds raise fears as fire risk grows

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:00 26/12/2012

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Fire managers are asking residents and tourists alike not to light any fires as the lack of rain and continued drying winds pushes the fire danger towards extreme.

Tasman District Council's dry weather task force will meet tomorrow to consider any extension to the current stage-one restrictions to water permits across the Waimea Plains.

Urban water users are being asked to conserve water and use hand-held hoses to water gardens every second day.

The council's water scientist, Joseph Thomas, said the region was terribly dry. "If it carries on like this, we will be in dire straits. Normally we do not see this type of weather until late February."

Rural firefighters attended three calls from yesterday afternoon when the hot exhaust from a car being driven around a Richmond paddock set the grass alight.

The suspected self-combustion of a rubbish pile in Motueka saw the town's volunteers respond at 2am and Appleby volunteers were called to a grass fire on the side of Redwood Valley Rd early this morning.

Permits were needed for all fires, said Waimea Rural Fire Authority operations manager Doug Ashford.

"The current fire risk is high to very high and Monday's wind pushed it beyond extreme.

"If a fire starts in those winds, we will not be able to stop it." He said the region was extremely dry, soil moisture was very low and the streams and waterways on which rural volunteers depended for firefighting were quickly drying up.

He asked all holidaymakers and residents to be sensible and responsible, to not light fires and to report any fires by dialling 111.

The community's behaviour around fire had been very good until now and he hoped that it would continue as the worst of the fire season approached.

No permits were being issued for fires and the Richmond lookout was being manned around the clock. Those who lit fires, or land owners where fires occurred, could be responsible for suppression and damage costs, he said.

Motueka Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Mike Riddell said behaviour had been good and he hoped that people would continue to enjoy the holiday season while remaining vigilant to the risk of fire.

Meanwhile, little respite is on the horizon, with the MetService predicting some possible light showers for the region over the next two days.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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