High winds cause power, fire issues

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014
Southland Times photo
JO McKENZIE-McLEAN/Fairfax NZ
Alexandra firefighters at a shed fire at the Oasis Orchard.

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Windy weather in the south kept firefighters busy yesterday with two rural fires and severe wind warnings for roads between Gore and Dunedin.

MetService communications meteorologist John Law said wind gusts in the southern region reached their peak yesterday afternoon and should settle today.

Gusts in Invercargill reached 93kmh and topped 117kmh at Centre Island in Foveaux Strait.

Mr Law said the weather today and tomorrow would be much kinder, with showers this morning clearing to sunshine.

He said to enjoy it while it lasted, however, because a low was developing over the Tasman.

"Low pressure is developing rapidly [on Sunday], so that may bring a wetter end to the weekend, with winds picking up a little in the afternoon."

Clyde chief fire officer Richard Davidson said winds of up to 50kmh had a "huge impact" on attempts to battle a blaze that destroyed one shed and damaged several others at Oasis Orchard in Boulton Rd near Clyde about 2pm yesterday.

"We were very lucky, the guys were on the ball very quickly, so we managed to save a large packing building and a few others," he said.

Other complications included potentially hazardous chemicals on site requiring firefighters to wear splash suits and go through decontamination, as well as a power cut before they were alerted to the blaze.

Mr Davidson said the fire siren in Clyde did not go off because the electricity was out.

‘The wind certainly didn't make it any easier," he said.

It was unknown what caused the fire but investigators would be on scene from today, Mr Davidson said.

A Delta spokesman said electricity was cut in the Clyde area from 2.08pm until 6.03pm because of wind damage.

Electricity was also out in the Cromwell area between 4.53pm and 6.04pm when a line went down in the wind, he said.

High winds also brought down a powerline near Mosgiel, which sparked a fire in a forestry block.

Outram chief fire officer John Eaton said fire engines from Outram, Roslyn, and Mosgiel attended the blaze, as well as a crash fire striker - a unit usually used for aircraft crashes that carries a massive amount of water.

About 20 people fought the fire for more than an hour.

"There was a house about 50 metres away, so it's lucky the wind wasn't blowing in the other direction," Mr Eaton said.

Yesterday, the NZ Transport Agency issued several severe weather warnings for roads in eastern Southland. Extra care was required by motorcyclists and people towing caravans or driving high-sided vehicles on State Highway 1 between Gore and Dunedin, State Highway 90 from McNab to Raes Junction and State Highway 8 from Raes Junction to Milton.

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