High winds, high temperatures keep firefighters busy

By Te Ao - Māori News

Firefighters had their hands full yesterday putting out fires in Southland, Otago and Canterbury – and were still on alert in some areas today as dry, windy conditions continue.

Yesterday Timaru had its hottest day on record, at 30.6 degrees Celsius – its warmest April day since records began in 1962.

The closest Timaru has got to 30.6C before Sunday was in 1978 when it hit 29.4C.

Temperatures are up across the east coast of the South Island, with the northwest wind driving the hot temperatures also causing havoc.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand crews were at rural blazes in Southland, Otago and South Canterbury yesterday, with strong winds preventing helicopters from being deployed in most areas.

At one stage yesterday, 37 appliances and tankers were involved across the region.

Evaluating today

In Otago and Southland major fires burned yesterday at Bucklands Crossing, Owaka, Waimea Valley and Dacre.

Nine fire crews are today assessing whether they need to stay on alert after battling against a forestry plantation fire yesterday near Fairlie in Canterbury.

The fire started at about midday yesterday, with diggers and firefighters fighting the blaze in about 10ha of forestry slash.

Fire and Emergency shift manager Andrew Norris said four houses threatened by the fire are now safe.

Fire and Emergency has suspended all Canterbury and Otago fire permits until Tuesday.

Central Otago deputy principal rural fire officer Bobby Lamont said the fire danger was extreme or very high in large parts of the region over Easter.

Check burn sites

Lamont also asked anyone who has had a burn in the last seven days to check they are completely out.

“The strong winds have the potential to reignite any old burn sites so people should check they are fully extinguished. Dig right down into the site, pour water over it and check with the back of your hand there is no heat.”

“We ask people to take the high fire danger in Otago seriously over the holiday weekend and to please obey the restrictions while they are in place.”

The occupants of three properties are being prepared to evacuate near Fairlie, in South Canterbury, as crews from five rural and four urban brigades battle a fire in a forestry plantation, which started around noon.

Deputy principal rural fire officer Ray Gardner said five engines, five tankers and three diggers were on site with more resources on the way, including the Timaru command unit.

The fire began in an area of forestry operations and had begun to spread to the standing trees, but efforts to prevent it spreading further had so far been successful. Gardner said conditions were difficult with high winds and smoke.