Weather fears for fire

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 13:08 12/01/2013

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Canterbury firefighters are ready for more work today, with hot and windy conditions threatening to "kick off" another day of intense 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 monitoring the situation, a fire spokesman said.  

Shift supervisor Riwai Grace said firefighters had been given a respite so far today, but were "poised" and ready in case more fires broke out.

"It's hot and if the wind picks up it will kick off."

The temperature in Christchurch had hit 27.4 degrees Celsius by 12.30pm, with moderate nor-easterly winds fanning the city.

Firefighters were sent back to West Melton this morning, after a scrub fire that left up to 100 hectares of plantation blackened yesterday began "smouldering" again today.

Reports of fire at two spots within Bottle Lake Forest Park this morning saw nine crews race to the scene, but the suspected smoke turned out to be dust, Grace said.

Selwyn district, where most blazes have broken out this week, 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. 

Grace said people should also take care with fireworks.

"My ... recommendation would be to not use them at the moment. If you do start a fire, you are legally liable to pay for it."

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. 

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"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. 

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. 


CURRENT FIRE SEASON STATUS' FOR CANTERBURY AND THE WEST COAST

Ashburton District Council: Split
-A restricted fire season has been declared for the Rakaia Gorge and Ashburton Lakes areas - meaning a permit is required to light a fire in the open air. 
-An open fire season is currently in force for the Ashburton Plains - meaning no permit is needed to light a fire in the open air.

Ashley Rural Fire District: Restricted
-A permit is required to light a fire in the open air

Christchurch City Council: Restricted
-A permit is required to light a fire in the open air

Hurunui District Council: Restricted
-A permit is required to light a fire in the open air

Selwyn District Council: Restricted
-A permit is required to light a fire in the open air

South Canterbury Rural Fire District: Restricted
-A permit is required to light a fire in the open air

Waimakariri District Council: Prohibited
-There is a ban on the lighting of any fires in the open air

West Coast Rural Fire District: Restricted
-A permit is required to light a fire in the open air

Source: National Rural Fire Authority

- Fairfax Media

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