Blaze a sign of summer danger

Last updated 13:00 23/12/2013

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Fire services are warning the Nelson region's residents of a rapidly escalating fire danger.

A fierce fire in the Marlborough Sounds during the weekend, which injured two firefighters and destroyed a house and six hectares of bush, was a sobering reminder of the danger, said Waimea Rural Fire District principal rural fire officer Ian Reade.

He said Nelson residents needed to be extremely cautious and adopt FireSmart measures around their properties to reduce the risk of a bush or scrub fire claiming their homes.

Coastal areas were particularly at risk, but generally the whole region was in danger.

"You just need to look around you and see all the grass and gorse on the hills to see that we are potentially at risk."

Temperatures were the same as last year, but increased winds and humidity were the problem, he said.

The current conditions were similar to those that contributed to the many bushfires in New South Wales a month ago, Reade said. In such conditions, even the smallest mishap could start a fire, and it could grow quite quickly.

Nelson needed significant rain to lessen the risk, he said.

Six helicopters and 30 firefighters, including three Nelson rural fire incident managers, were sent to Marlborough to help with the fire at Port Underwood on Saturday.

Witnesses said the fire started after a felled tree landed on a power line at Flagg Bay at 3pm on Saturday.

A 21-year-old firefighter suffered smoke inhalation, while a 50-year-old firefighter broke several ribs when he fell down a bank.

A Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter spokesperson said that while the helicopter medic was assessing the injured men, the helicopter was asked to do an aerial sweep of the shoreline below the fire, looking for residents who may have fled there.

The fire had been contained by 7.30pm but firefighters remained at the scene overnight and yesterday morning.

The injured firefighters were taken to Wairau Hospital in Blenheim and were discharged on Saturday afternoon.

Reade said the fire was a good example of how letting vegetation build up around houses could result in them being destroyed.

It was not the only fire over the weekend. Two fires occurred and reignited as a result of lawnmowers catching on fire on Saturday.

The Tasman, Mapua and Appleby fire brigades were called out to deal with another fire last night, after a rubbish fire got out of control and destroyed half a hectare of land.

Reade said the fire was easily preventable.

He said residents needed to be aware that grinder sparks and even driving with a hot exhaust through long grass could cause a fire. While grass could appear green, it was the dead residue underneath that could fuel a fire.

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Reade called for residents to take charge and modify the vegetation in and around their properties.

As a general rule, residents should create a non-flammable zone of one to two metres around their properties, he said.

Using bark on gardens and keeping anything flammable under buildings should be avoided, he said.

"We want people to be planting non-flammable species - big, leafy plants rather than dry crusty ones.

"As demonstrated at [Saturday's] fire, it can be lifesaving if people have a pre-planned escape and evacuation plan."

Residents should have at least two different escape paths, he said.

Fire services were not issuing fire permits until January 6, and this was dependent on weather conditions, Mr Reade said.

"During the holiday period we are more vulnerable to a high fire danger, as the many volunteers we rely on for rapid response can be away or celebrating the season with family and friends.

"We do have a core available, but would prefer if they could enjoy a well-earned and relaxing Christmas break."

Details on how to safeguard your property are on ruralfirenetwork., or call the rural fire network 03 544 2441.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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