Massive fire on Southland conservation land

Last updated 10:31 20/11/2012

A massive fire which stretched across 400 hectares raged overnight as it took hold of conservation land at Awarua, south of Invercargill.

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Five fire crews and three helicopters are today continuing to battle a wildfire that has burnt hundreds of hectares of conservation estate.

Difficult terrain and strong winds are causing problems for firefighters battling a blaze in wetlands south of Invercargill, but officials hope to have the fire under control by tonight.

Early today the blaze was continuing to spread through the Awarua wetlands conservation area, and by 9.30am had burned through about 420ha, Southern Rural Fire Authority spokesperson Sally Chesterfield said.

The fire was being fought by five crews on the ground and three helicopters dropping water on the head, or front, of the fire from monsoon buckets.

"Two things are making it difficult to fight the fire," Chesterfield said.

"The terrain is very wet under foot, and it is difficult to get heavy machinery into those areas."

Secondly, a strong northwest wind was fanning the fire.

"They're hoping to get the fire under control by tonight," she said.

"It's not threatening any homes, but it is threatening some significant, internationally recognised wetlands."

As was standard practice, police and fire investigators were looking into the cause of the blaze.

The fire was reported yesterday evening and firefighters fought it until about 11pm before being pulled out for the night.

Southern Rural Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Mike Grant said the authority was alerted to the fire, in the Awarua Wetlands, about 6pm last night after it was reported by a member of the public in the area.

Investigators were trying to determine how the fire started, Grant said.

 

Nearby landowner Reza Abdul-Jabbar said he first noticed the fire about 5.30pm and raised the alarm.

His farm is on the northern edge of the fire zone and he was initially concerned the fire would spread because of the direction of the wind, but it had later changed direction.

He said the land was likely to burn up because it was so dry, and he expected it would take some time to to put out.

Another nearby landowner Warren Owen said the fire had spread along the shoreline of the Waituna Lagoon. He hoped it would not spread to his farmland but was concerned it could move into neighbouring reserve land.

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- The Southland Times

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