Live fire resumes

ANNA PRICE
Last updated 10:50 30/01/2013
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Army range

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The Army started live firing again today at its West Melton rifle range barely a week after the big blaze that swept across 50 hectares.


Residents living near the range received a letter from the Defence Force saying it had been cleared for live rifle firing but grenades would not be used.


An Army court of inquiry is underway this week into the fire which is believed to have been caused by a live grenade during training last week.


Selwyn Civil Defence chief Douglas Marshall understood that the army had reassessed the risks, considered the concerns of neighbours and looked at their own training needs in the decision to resume live firing.
"On the basis of this, the army believes there is little or no risk from small arms fire training."


Council, he said, would have preferred a long spell from the range "on basis what the community is feeling’’.


Around 100 live grenades might have been fired at the range on the outskirts of Christchurch in the morning before the fire erupted.
Army fire crews and rural firefighters battled all afternoon to bring the fire under control.


Burnham Military Camp Commander Major Bill Blair said the inquiry would establish how it occurred.
The inquiry could take a week or two.


Grenade training was carried out on a grass-free, prepared surface with a Defence fire tender and crew standing by, Major Blair said.
‘‘As soon as fire ignited they rushed to put it out. But it took off fast and got away.’’


The rifle range signpost had been there since World War II, he said.
‘‘But actually, it is a NZ Defence Force piece of real estate.
‘‘It is designated Defence Force land under the Selwyn district plan.
‘‘Whatever weapons systems can be accommodated there are used, from the rifle to hand grenades and sub-calibre devices.’’


Higher-capacity weapons systems had been shifted from West Melton to the more remote training terrain at Lake Tekapo.


The army could face charges over Wednesday’s fire.


Selwyn MP Amy Adams said she was ‘‘most concerned’’ to learn that the Defence Force had decided to proceed with live firing exercises at its rifle range on such a hot, dry day, particularly given the recent fires in the area.

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‘‘I have raised my concerns with the Defence Force and will continue to follow this matter up with the Chief of the Defence Force and will be watching the outcome of the NZDF’s investigation into this matter closely,’’ Ms Adams said.
‘‘Everyone in the region is painfully aware of the current high fire risk in the area following the serious fires here earlier this month, and all activity in the area has to be carefully assessed for fire risk before proceeding.

- (Live Matches)

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