Fire risk halts army grenade training

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 11:45 29/01/2013

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The New Zealand Defence Force will resume rifle training at West Melton from tomorrow, but says grenades will not be used due to the dry conditions.

Firing at the site has been suspended since it was found a grenade used during a training exercise caused a fire that destroyed 50 hectares at West Melton last Wednesday.

In a letter circulated to West Melton residents, the army said the range had been cleared for use by their fire service.

However, it would restrict training by using only rifles at the range.

"This message is therefore to share with you the decision by the New Zealand Army not to resume training with grenades or any other high explosive at the range, given the current fire conditions," the letter said.

"The decision not to resume grenade training but recommence ordinary rifle training is the appropriate response to the increased fire dangers at this time, while ensuring that our soldiers are fully prepared for their operational commitments."

The army would "continue to monitor weather conditions closely" until the threat of fire was significantly reduced.

"The safety of our neighbours as well as our own personnel is vitally important to us," the letter said.

West Melton resident Jerry Larason said people did not have an issue with the use of rifles at the range.

"That's not the problem. The rifle fire does not pose a noise or fire risk to us. Only the neighbours can even hear the rifles,'' he said.

"It's the big explosives that have no legal right to be there. They've just slipped them into use over the years and hoped we don't notice."

Last week, the army apologised to residents for causing the fire.

"We are genuinely sorry for the disruption and the angst caused by the fire to local residents," Acting Chief of Army Brigadier Peter Kelly said.

"When planning our training, we do take into account the weather conditions, and in both cases did take preventive measures to counter these."

The fire is being investigated by the army.

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