Parched Waikato on fire alert

CHRIS GARDNER AND MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2013
COOLING OFF: Tommyford Westrupp gets a soaking in the Garden Place fountains in Hamilton yesterday.
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
COOLING OFF: Tommyford Westrupp gets a soaking in the Garden Place fountains in Hamilton yesterday.

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Months of the driest weather for years have parts of the Waikato on alert and the region's freshwater suppliers busy topping up rural water tanks across the region.

Flames, 20 metres high, burned through five hectares of bush 2km north of Taupo's town centre yesterday, endangering the Spa Hotel in Spa Rd and a nearby adventure centre, in a blaze principal rural fire officer Phil Parker described as suspicious.

It took three hours to get the blaze, spotted at 2.20pm, under control and Mr Parker said firefighters would be damping down hot spots for days.

"It's a thermal area and we have got a lot of homeless people living there," he said.

"This is the worst summer we have had for fire risk for a number of years. We are not allowing fires to be lit outside at all."

Scott Rinkin, operator of the Spa Hotel, said fire crept within 500m of the building "pretty quick" and he evacuated 20 guests.

"We had to go and get everyone out of their units and tell them to grab what they could and run. So it was quite hectic here," he said.

Fire restrictions in the Taupo district have been in place since October and are unlikely to be lifted until April or May.

Brett Lange, owner of Water Boyz at Orini, said the unusually dry weather was bringing the work in thick and fast.

"It's been pretty full-on since about October, we're doing more runs every day and there's a lot more work around the greater Waikato area keeping us busy further down the south of the region," Mr Lange said.

Barry Brewer, owner of Waikato Water in Cambridge, said it looked like the company was in for a busy few weeks.

The drastically dry weather looks set to continue with temperatures set to reach the mid to high 20 degrees Celsius this week.

Flick open the 10-day forecast for Hamilton and there's just a touch of grey cloud on Thursday. Otherwise, the dry, fine, sunshine rolls through to January 30.

Metservice forecaster Philippa Murdoch said the cooler temperatures over the last few days were a side effect of a cold air mass sitting over the region.

"There was colder air coming in from colder seas but that's moved off now and things should pick up," she said.

"We've got a big clear high building over pretty much the whole country and it should stay for the next couple of days and that generally means settled weather with light winds."

Inland Waikato areas may have had the odd shower yesterday afternoon and evening, Ms Murdoch said.

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But today should be fine.

"There could be a little bit of patchy high cloud during the evening but it shouldn't mar the nice day. On Wednesday it's looking fine, too, and a similar story on Thursday but there could be an isolated shower later on."

The region's mercury looks set to peak at 30C in Te Kuiti on Friday.

Ms Murdoch didn't want to predict the weekend's weather because it was too far out to forecast with accuracy. But she agreed that an easterly flow could bring a few showers east of Coromandel Peninsula while the west is likely to remain dry unless sea breezes kick in.

In that case there could be the odd shower popping up in the afternoon.

- Additional reporting by Jenna Lynch and Siena Yates

- Waikato Times

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