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Fire services stretched

Wairarapa’s fire brigades were flat out yesterday responding to four incidents in increasingly tinder-dry conditions throughout the region, where a total fire ban remains in force.

“I’m not surprised that what’s happened today has happened,” Fenz Wairarapa area assistant commander Craig Cottrill told the Times-Age as he oversaw the crews.

The first callout involved a large native vegetation fire that was reported at around 9am in Rocky Hills, Te Wharau in the Carterton District that was about 600 metres by 400 metres in size.

Cottrill said access to the site was “quite difficult”, so helicopters were deployed to “do quite a bit of the firefighting and mopping up hot spots off the road”.

The fire required a total of two helicopters, one pump each from Masterton, Morrisville, Tīnui, and Wainuioru, two tankers [from Carterton and Masterton], and two support vehicles from Carterton.

Cottrill said the fire was contained to about two hectares as of 5pm yesterday, and he anticipated it would be fully put out by around 8pm.

The second vegetation fire, which was reported at about 12:20pm at Cape Palliser, resulted in 40m2 of smouldering vegetation after three pumps and a tanker arrived around 1.30pm to put it out.

“Fortunately, that fire didn’t grow in size,” Cottrill said.

Crews from Masterton, Wainuioru, Carterton, Tīnui, Mauriceville, and Remutaka Volunteer Fire Brigade attended the Cape Palliser fire.

Because Masterton fire crews were busy with the first two fires of the day, Carterton and Greytown fire crews responded to an incident on Ōpaki Rd at about 2pm involving a Masterton resident who lit an incinerator to burn rubbish, which is currently illegal under the total fire ban.

Carterton chief fire officer Bryan Styles said it was “very lucky we got it just as it jumped the fence before it endangered any properties – in another 10-15 minutes, it might have been a bit different”.

“It’s highly probable that they didn’t know what they were doing, given English would have been their second language,” Fenz Wairarapa commander Craig Cottrill said of the individual who lit the fire in breach of the ongoing ban.

“As we’ve kept saying, any spark can generate a fire in these dry conditions and that’s exactly what’s happened.

“Next week we are going to be in similar conditions, so if you see smoke and fire, phone 111 straight away – don’t post it on Facebook or ring a friend in the brigade,” as happened in two incidents over the weekend.

“And if you are going to mow your lawn or undertake any farm activity that’s likely to generate sparks, do it first thing in the morning when it is still cool,” Cottrill said.

A false fire alarm activation led to another fire crew from Remutaka being dispatched to Pownall St in Masterton at about 4pm.

All of Wairarapa moved to a prohibited fire season on January 23, and the restrictions remain in place until further notice.

A prohibited fire season means no open-air fires are allowed, and all existing permits have been revoked.

For further info, and tips on how to stay ‘fire safe’, go to www.checkitsalright.nz

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