Extreme fire danger closes Hira Forest

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 13:00 21/12/2012

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A high to extreme fire risk has closed a popular recreational area in the Nelson hills, with users being warned about the risk of entering other areas.

The Hira Forest, which is accessed from the Maitai Valley, is closed to mountainbikers and other recreational users.

The Nelson City Council is putting up signs in other well-used areas in the Brook and Maitai valleys warning the public of the fire danger.

People wanting to use these tracks are being encouraged to do so either in the early morning or late evening when the fire risk is at its lowest.

If no significant rain occurs in these areas during the next couple of weeks, extra precautions could be taken.

Waimea Rural Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Ian Reade said there was a smoking ban in the area and anyone who saw smoke was asked to call 111 immediately.

Mr Reade said a tool which measured the fire risk, called the Build Up Index, was over 100 in the Hira Forest, a level which was considered very high to extreme.

The index indicated how much fuel there was in the area to burn. Its current level showed that if a fire broke out in the area it would travel fast.

He said the fire risk was deceptive. In some parts of the Maitai Valley the grass on the roadside verge was long and green, but the vegetation and the ground was very dry.

The main concern was in the Nelson hills as other parts of the region had received more rain. Nelson had only received 1mm of rain this week, while Richmond's fire lookout received 4mm.

The rest of the region inland from the coast has received enough rain to hold the fire danger in the moderate to high range for the next week.

"It's just that area behind Nelson. We need to take it seriously."

Mr Reade said 98 per cent of fires were caused by people.

He said the unusual thing about this time of year was that the humidity was so low and this, combined with the southwesterly winds, was sucking the moisture out of everything.

Those conditions were referred to as "cross over" in rural fire terms, and it could provide intense fire behaviour.

He said there was little rain forecast. Nelson might get 4mm today, and there was potential for some next Thursday and Friday.

"If that happens, that will ease things off, but until then we have to face the increased risk."

A posting on the Nelson Mountain Bike Club Facebook page said the Hira Forest, Fireball Rd area and Fringed Hill Rd access were closed to recreational users due to the fire risk.

Nelson City Council parks and facilities manager Paul McArthur said the warning signs would go up around the Dun Mountain tracks, Tantragee and Codgers trails area that adjoined Hira Forest. People could then decide whether to go into the areas or not, based on that advice.

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He said people should be aware of the risks and if possible, think of escape routes if fire broke out.

Meanwhile the Department of Conservation was urging people to be informed about fire rules and local fire restrictions and conditions before heading out into parks, reserves and back country areas for camping and recreation during the holidays.

A spokesman said wildfires could put lives and property at risk and damage the natural environment.

With a long, hot summer predicted, the fire risk was set to increase and holidaymakers needed to take special care to prevent wild fires, said DOC Canterbury fire officer Tony Teeling.

"Most fires on conservation land start in nearby accessways and areas such as roads, river beds, tracks and campsites. It only takes one spark or careless flick of a cigarette to start a fire."

Those camping or tramping in conservation areas should take their own portable fuel stoves for cooking. People using 4WD vehicles should ensure they are well maintained and carry fire equipment such as a fire extinguisher and shovel.

- The Nelson Mail

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