Thu, Jan 18, 2024 4:00 PM

Fire services on red alert


William Woodworth

A spate of vegetation fires across the region has trigged a warning from fire experts for people to be on high alert.

Marlborough District Council and local firefighters are warning of extreme fire risks as tinder dry conditions continue.

A fire in the Wither Hills Farm Park could see flames stretch as high as 10metres, experts warn.

The caution comes after yet another fire over the weekend which saw
Roads in central Blenheim closed due to a nearby bush fire.

Police were alerted at 1.21pm on Sunday of a bush fire near the Ōpaoa River.  Dillons Point Rd and Lane St were also closed as motorists were told to avoid the area.

Fire Emergency New Zealand South Shift Manager Lyn Crosson says the latest fire was dangerous due to its proximity to town and traffic.

“The large turnout on Sunday to the fire in Blenheim was due to the danger it could have posed to members of the public and buildings, but our crews worked really well to get it under control.

“Much of the area is under a fire ban because the risk is so great and has the potential to escalate so fast, and we ask all members of the public to be extra vigilant with anything that causes sparks, whether it’s something as mundane as lawnmowing or machinery.”

While declaring the prohibited season, Fire and Emergency’s Marlborough Group Manager Chris Hayles is asking the public to check any old fires to ensure they are fully extinguished.

"Fire will start and spread very easily and could be extremely difficult to contain, so rake out areas and apply water," he says.

"There is a lot more dry material around than last year, so avoid any activity that is heat producing in dry areas, for example welding, grinding, or parking vehicles in long dry grass."

“Going off the current indices, a fire in the Wither Hills Farm Park would readily ignite, be extremely fast spreading, difficult to control and have extreme fire intensity.”

“We could expect to see 10-metre flame heights with the length of the dry grass in areas of the park.”

Hot, dry conditions are on the long term forecast for Marlborough, and firefighters have already battled vegetation fires across the region this summer.

In the last week fires south of the Wairau River, including the flat land from the Eastern side of State Highway 1 from Tuamarina to Rarangi, have been prohibited - and the Wither Hills Farm Park, mountain bike tracks and carparks have closed.

A prohibited fire season means a total ban on outdoor fires, and all previously granted fire permits are suspended.

The annual King and Queen of the Withers, due to be held on Saturday, has also been cancelled.

A vegetation fire on 5 January at the Wairau Diversion Campsite has closed the freedom camping site until February.

Wairau Valley, Waihopai and Rapaura areas have all seen recent bush fires.

Parks and Open Spaces Manager Jane Tito says FENZ reviewed the fire danger status daily and given current conditions had recommended the Wither Hills’ closure due to the high fire risk.

“Given the mixture of dry grass in the park, warm temperatures and windy conditions, a fire would spread very quickly placing people at extreme risk,” she said.

“We have received the latest report from FENZ who have recommended a full closure until conditions change enough to decrease the fire danger.”

The situation would be monitored daily and the closure would be reviewed if there was significant rain.

If anyone is unsure if their property sits in the south zone, they can visit and enter their address to check.

“If you see any sign of fire, call 111 immediately because a matter of minutes can make all of the difference for our crews to get it under control,”

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