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Fire season hits

A helicopter with a monsoon bucket in action fighting a grass fire at Opaki on Thursday. PHOTO/ELIZA VORSTER

Three blazes in two hours test firefighters
Threatened water race saves the day


Three fires broke out in Masterton within two hours on Thursday afternoon ahead of the region’s total fire ban, that kicked in at 8am yesterday.

A lawnmower hitting a rock created a spark that started a fire in Manaia Rd, south of Masterton, at 1.20pm, with a helicopter with a monsoon bucket called in to help extinguish a grass fire starting in Opaki an hour later.

Shortly before 3pm, a minor fire near Ngaumu, east of Wainuioru, also required a helicopter because the Wainuioru Rural Fire Brigade’s fire engine had been sent to Nelson.

“It’s Sod’s Law,” Wainuioru controller Dave Mitchell said. “They only took it last night [Wednesday].

“I suppose they thought, ‘I wonder who can spare one’.

“That’s why the helicopter was brought in.”

The fire, on the corner of Te Maipi and Motukai roads, was caused by sparks from power lines.

The helicopter made about 10 trips with a monsoon bucket to extinguish it – “I think we could have handled it with the engine,” Mitchell said.

A lawnmower spark and “tinder-dry conditions” were all it took to start a grass fire which covered an area 100m by 20m on Manaia Rd.

A contractor mowing long grass hit a rock in what was the second hottest day of the year – 33C – and after no serious rain for weeks, the resulting spark was enough to start the blaze.

But principal rural fire officer Nick Pyatt said it could have been a lot worse, with several trees in the area.

“With these tinder-dry conditions, even the most innocent task – like mowing your lawns – can spark a fire, and it’s believed that is the cause of the Nelson fire at this stage.”

A helicopter with a monsoon bucket was also called in to help fight the grass fire at Opaki, filling the bucket from a swimming pool on the property.

But fire appliances were also able to access water from the Opaki water race, a resource which may not be available for much longer.

Masterton District Council’s consent to take water for the race is due to expire and Fish & Game is opposing use of the race unless plans are made to phase it out in five years.

David Woodhouse farms on the neighbouring property to where the Opaki fire started and said the race played a key role on Thursday.

“The fire fighters had three or four hoses pumping water out of it – it came in pretty handy.”

Woodhouse and his wife Deb, along with others, helped extinguish part of the fire in a paddock before the arrival of the helicopter.

While the grass was a low stubble, Deb Woodhouse said it was no easy matter to keep the fire contained.

“It was so fast,” she said. “You’d put it out over there [a metre away] and suddenly it was just at your feet.”

The prohibited fire season which started yesterday bans all fires in the open, and covers all urban, rural and coastal areas of the Wairarapa region including DoC land until revoked or amended by Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

All fire permits previously issued were also suspended from yesterday.

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