Warning issued after another day of fires

PRESS REPORTERS
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2013

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Fires continued to rage across Canterbury yesterday as the hot, dry conditions put firefighters on high alert for a weekend of further blazes.

Firefighters worked throughout the night to dampen the ground at two sites - one in Selwyn and one in West Melton - and will remain on site for the rest of the day to continue to monitor the situation, a fire spokesman said. 

Neither fire is raging but the Fire Service is on high alert as dry nor'westerly winds and high temperatures are forecast for the region today. 

Selwyn district, where most blazes have broken out, is under fire restrictions. Senior firefighters warn of parched ground and high winds creating a "time-bomb" for further blazes like the ones that destroyed homes near Prebbleton on Thursday.

Only permit-holders can light fires.

Federated Farmers has urged its members to remain vigilant in the "tinderbox conditions" this weekend, especially when harvesting crops or using machinery.

Fire raged across Canterbury yesterday, with one scrub blaze in West Melton leaving 80 to 100 hectares of plantation blackened. That blaze required nine tankers, six fire trucks and three helicopters to bring it under control.

Blazes also burned in Cust, Sockburn, Belfast, Ashburton and there was a house fire in Bishopdale.

Fire-safety officer Graham Davies said crews had no sooner put out one fire than they were called straight to another.

"It has just got silly," he said.

Davies is imploring people not to light any fires and to take extreme care if using machinery.

"Be very careful when you are using anything that might make a spark; any machines, grinders or welders," he said.

Cust chief fire officer Peter Clements said the fires would have been a lot worse if the hot northwest winds that fanned flames on Thursday had not eased.

"It's truly bone-dry out here and people need to be so careful," he said.

"The dry weather really is making things difficult but we've been lucky to not have any major fires out here . . . touch wood we don't have one."

The two fires caused extensive vegetation damage but no property was damaged and no animals or people were injured, Clements said.

Fire Service acting area commander Dave Berry said the West Melton blaze was under control by late afternoon.

"We've contained the fire at this stage.

"We've hit it hard and we've hit it fast."

Berry said it was unclear at this stage what started the blaze, which was visible from most parts of Christchurch.

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He said a couple of lease-holders downwind from the fire had to be evacuated, but were able to return now.

About 300 people gathered for a sidecar championship were also evacuated.

MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said temperatures will remain high over the weekend, sitting just under 30 degrees Celsius, with little wind.

The wild nor'westers that fanned the Prebbleton scrub fire are not expected to return.

Canterbury can expect some respite from the dry conditions early next week, with showers and temperatures in the early 20s on Monday.

AT A GLANCE

Restricted fire zone across Selwyn district. Crews to remain on high alert for the weekend. Two homes destroyed on Thursday as fire tore through 150 hectares near Prebbleton. Prebbleton fires claimed 18,000 hens. Yesterday's fire ripped through 80 to 100 hectares near the Waimakariri River. Hot and dry weather to continue over the weekend.

- The Press

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