Warning given on danger with burnoffs

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
burn off
NATASHA MARTIN/ Fairfax NZ

PREPARATION: A farmer readys soil for a paddock's next crop with a light field burn-off.

burn off
CAUTION: Burnoffs are used as a tool to prepare the paddock for the next crop rotation. The hot weather in Canterbury has fuelled extreme fire conditions over the past month.

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Farmers are being warned not to take shortcuts as they begin burning off crop residue following harvest.

Burnoffs are used as a tool to prepare the paddock for the next crop rotation. The hot weather in Canterbury has fuelled extreme fire conditions over the past month.

Burning a paddock safely took skill and care, Federated Farmers South Canterbury grain and seed chairman Colin Hurst said.

Hurst farms on the State Highway near Makikihi. He said he was very conscious of making sure smoke did not fan across the road and become a hazard to drivers.

"We've waited up to three weeks sometimes to get the right conditions. It's a traffic safety issue."

Being able to burn fires was as an essential part of farm management, Waitohi farmer Jeremy Talbot said.

But farmers had to demonstrate to urban counterparts that it can be done responsibly and that it is an economic necessity in the long term in order to maintain that right.

It was fortunate that South Canterbury principal rural fire officer Rob Hands understood farmers and appreciated the need for farmers to do burnoffs, even during fire restrictions, he said.

Not creating a correct firebreak was the biggest and most common mistake farmers made in the burnoff process.

The firebreak needed to be at least five metres and be non-combustible. He also recommended the removal of as much straw and material as possible before any paddock cultivation was done.

He warned farmers not to create a huge mountain of straw on the edge of the paddock closest to the firebreak, but instead reduce the firewall on the firebreak's edge.

It was important to light the fire quickly to get two backburn runs and then light the rest of the paddock.

"If you get it right, you can almost make the thing suck itself towards the centre so it gets a good steady burn."

Wind strength was also critical - ideally it should be blowing about three to five knots.

"A gentle consistent breeze going one way is what you want and if you're near a main road, it can't be blowing towards the road," he said.

Farmers also had to have enough water and fire fighting ability on hand when the fire was lit in case it burned out of control.

Talbot said he had his 3600L sprayer set up with a firehose, and a 1000L tank towed behind the vehicle lighting the fire and three people prepared in case there was a problem.

"One man going out on his ute with a wet bag is not sufficient."

Having three people on hand was a requirement in a permit when carrying out a burnoff.

"They also need a working cell phone. You would be surprised at the number of people who, when the fire gets away, have to go back to the house to ring up because no one brought their phone."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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