Editorial: Blazes a fiery reminder of risks

Last updated 13:00 03/12/2012

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OPINION: While many welcome the current warm, dry spell, firefighters may not be so thrilled.

Despite a soggy winter, drying winds and sunshine in recent weeks have combined to quickly sap moisture from the ground across the region.

Already, in the past fortnight, there have been fires on the Centre of New Zealand hill and in an East Takaka forest that fortunately have been contained thanks to the quick response of fire and helicopter crews.

A spark from wire ropes may have started the East Takaka blaze that burned a hectare of forest and scrub, showing how volatile the conditions are.

The cause of the Centre of New Zealand fire remains unclear.

Fortunately, no homes were threatened in either blaze, but they underline the importance of taking extra care in our great outdoors, particularly in the hills around Nelson bordering residential areas.

Hillside homeowners can help by taking preventive measures such as keeping gutters clean, having a buffer around the outside of the house free of inflammable material and a break between wooden fences and the house.

In rural and forestry areas, the fire service warns that a green covering is deceptive, with conditions extremely dry underneath.

The forecast is for a hot, dry summer - a far cry from the big wet last December - so the fire risk is set to rise.

Everyone can play their part in helping manage it.

Last Friday night's spectacular fire that destroyed Nayland College's horticulture department is worrying for different reasons, with police saying they can't rule out the possibility of it being suspicious, and they are seeking witnesses.

Fortunately, it was contained before it caused wider damage, allowing the college to see out the final weeks of the year without too much disruption.

It can only be hoped that if the blaze was deliberately set, those responsible will be found quickly.

A more benign and beguiling fire has been revealed in a valley near Murchison. A new eco-tourism venture is taking visitors to the strange sight of flames sprouting from the ground in the middle of the bush.

The story goes that hunters first lit the flames in the 1920s after smelling natural gas seeping from fissures, and they have been burning ever since.

Only a few locals, following a sketchy track marked by tin lids jars, were in the know until an intrigued couple of newcomers to Murchison, Merve and Shirley Bigden, tracked them down.

They have worked for the past six years to get the necessary access consents for their venture that combines stunning bush, tales of failed mineral exploration and the weirdness of flames in the forest.

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Billy tea and pancakes top the unique Kiwi experience.

It's a charming oddity that should boost an area blessed with many outdoor attractions. By taking in only small groups, it's hoped the flames' aura of mystery, and the pristine bush surrounding them, will be preserved.

- The Nelson Mail

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