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Firefighters gear up as heat rises

Fire crews from across the region and beyond are being kept busy in Wairarapa, with three substantial fires on Monday afternoon and one in the early hours yesterday in Ngāwī – and they are anticipating that things will get even more hectic.

“Monday’s fires were probably a bit of a warm-up for what’s to come,” Fire and Emergency [Fenz] assistant commander for Wairarapa region Craig Cottrill said, highlighting the hot and dry conditions forecast for Friday.

The yesterday’s fire in Ngāwī was initially reported at about 6.30am and the local Ngāwī brigade responded, with Lake Ferry, Martinborough, Masterton, and Carterton on hand if necessary.

Cottrill explained that when the fire risk is heightened, Fenz has a system for “hot fire days”.

“Any time the danger gets high or extreme, we add additional appliances [trucks] to the first response to make sure we have enough resources to match the higher risk,” he said.

Cottrill couldn’t confirm the cause of the fire in Ngāwī but noted that it started in an area where people tend to camp.

He said there is a possibility the fire may have started from a campfire that hadn’t been extinguished properly.

Due to the predicted hot and dry conditions, the fire risk in Wairarapa is heightened – especially in coastal areas.

“Our greatest risk at the moment is in the coastal area which is a lot drier – Ngāwī, Palliser, Castlepoint, and Riversdale,” he said.

The fires on Monday prompted responses from multiple brigades across the region and beyond, with appliances from Remutaka responding and a command unit called from Palmerston North, although it was turned around as not required.

The Gladstone fire was considered a “third-alarm fire” [which means more than one squad is required], while the one in Martinborough was a “second-alarm” [considered to be serious or large scale].

A third fire in Masterton near Hughes Line was put out before crews arrived – and was the result of a burn-off lit the day prior.

“They lit the fire the day before we went into a restricted fire season [on Monday],” Cottrill said, speculating that they had tried to “get it sorted” before the restrictions came into effect.

“There are probably a number of fires that are still smouldering away across Wairarapa,” he said.

Cottrill urges anyone with an ongoing or a recent burn-off to keep a close eye on it and extinguish it if possible.

The third alarm fire in Gladstone covered an area of 350m x 350m, according to a Fenz spokesperson.

One of the Monday afternoon fires was started by agricultural mowing, Cottrill said.

“When the fire conditions are elevated, it doesn’t take much to start a fire. Our message to farmers is to mow earlier in the morning,” he said, explaining that the colder, damper weather in the morning makes it the best time to do any mowing.

Despite multiple trucks being called to jobs across the region on Monday, there was a tanker available at each job after resources were spread across the area, and more crews were available had they been needed.

“We bring Remutaka over as soon as we know that Masterton resources will be busy for some time. We don’t like to have the cupboard completely empty,” Cottrill said.

He commended the “hard mahi” of all fire crews across the region.

Anybody wishing to light a fire outdoors in the coming months must apply for a permit, and someone will likely inspect the site if the proposed activities are considered high-risk, Cottrill said.

“The other big thing is that if a farmer or lifestyle block has a fire, call 111 immediately.”

The sooner they receive the call, the quicker they can get there and get to work, he said.

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