Fire danger as weather heats up

"The rural fire ban includes barbecues that are lit by wood or coal"

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
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CAMERON BURNELL
Farm land around the region is turning browner by the day

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Most of Taranaki will soon have fire bans in place as the hot, dry weather takes the fire danger close to extreme levels.

A rural fire ban has already been in place in South Taranaki since January but will be extended to include Patea, and fires in North Taranaki will also be banned from midnight tomorrow.

The ban means no open-air burning activities will be allowed in rural areas.

And with a 10-day stretch of unbroken sun forecast, water restrictions may also be brought in around the New Plymouth district.

New Plymouth fire deputy area manager John Nicholls said fire danger levels were close to reaching extreme levels.

"The potential for a fire to spread rapidly has become such that we need a ban."

Principal rural fire officer John Gunn said the fire ban spanning Hawera, Eltham, Rahotu, Opunake and everywhere in between is unlikely to be lifted any time soon.

"Not until we've had some significant rain. There's no rain forecast for the next 10-15 days that I can see."

New Plymouth District Council general manager planning and policy Frank Versteeg said any existing rural fire permits will be suspended until the ban is lifted.

"The rural fire ban includes barbecues that are lit by wood or coal - gas barbecues are still OK to use.

"However if anyone is planning a hangi in a rural area they should contact the council first and we'll consider them on a case-by-case basis."

Stratford is the only district where no fire ban or restrictions are in place.

Stratford District Council director community and environmental services Mike Avery said its data did not signal any immediate fire danger to the area.

He said the council had double-checked with the national rural fire authority and was sure about its decision, but if the good weather continued, fire restrictions could be put in place.

Water restrictions for New Plymouth could be needed as the dry weather has prompted high water use, council manager operations Graeme Pool said.

"At the New Plymouth Water Treatment Plant there were 254 million litres used for the week ending Sunday 17 February - 39 million litres more than the 215 million litres during the same period last year.

"It would help a lot if the public would voluntarily curb their water use as much as possible around the home."

The high water use is also causing problems with water pressure in some parts of the community, he said. "We are working to resolve the issues for these affected customers but the problem is demand-related - the water-pressure issues would ease if the district's water use dropped."

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Mr Pool said a close eye was being kept on the 10-day weather forecast.

Rainfall data collected by the council at Brooklands Zoo for the last 30 days showed New Plymouth received 64.5mm of rain.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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