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Harvested powerline starts fire

Over 700 Martinborough properties were left without power yesterday after a combine harvester hit and pulled down a power line that then started a fire in a field.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand [Fenz] was called shortly after 2pm to a property in Martinborough where a field of barley had caught alight due to the downed wire.

The fire quickly worked through a hectare of barley, dry grass, and scrub, and into some gum trees, and was moving up a hill toward a house and into a vineyard, Wairarapa Fenz group manager Craig Cottrill said.

A total of 12 appliances were called to the fire, including three from Upper Hutt, with local brigades from Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton, Featherston, Masterton, and Ngāwī also responding.

“Thankfully, the fire was close to a fire station, and we were able to get some fire appliances there very quickly,” Cottrill said.

He applauded the efforts of the first responding officers and said the fire was officially classified as being just over a third alarm – where the seriousness of the fire requires a larger response due to dry conditions – due to some ad hoc pumps joining the firefighting efforts.

In such dry conditions, a powerline down on the ground is highly likely to start a fire, and Cottrill emphasised that “anybody operating over height equipment needs to be aware of powerlines and their work environment”.

The fire was brought under control by responding brigades just before 3pm and crews remained on site to keep “mopping up” the area.

Fenz notified Powerco of the downed line at about 2.10pm.

A Powerco spokesperson confirmed that 716 properties lost power after an agricultural vehicle brought down lines on Puruatanga Rd, sparking a vegetation fire.

“In response, network controllers switched off the main high-voltage line to the area,” the spokesperson said.

“This was the quickest way to ensure the lines were no longer live.”

A Powerco field crew was dispatched to make the site safe and isolate the affected area of the network.

Network controllers were able to reconnect 708 customers outside the immediate vicinity just before 3pm.

Crews were still at the scene at 5pm yesterday and Powerco anticipated that the remaining eight customers without power would have it restored later in the evening.

The Powerco spokesperson advised that electricity lines should be “treated as live at all times, they should not be touched, and people and animals should be kept well clear”.

If lines come down, people are urged to call 111 or Powerco’s 24/7 emergency line on 0800272727 to report it.

If lines come down on a vehicle, occupants should stay in the vehicle until given the all-clear.

“If occupants are in danger – for instance if there’s a fire – they should jump clear of the vehicle keeping their feet together when they land,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s important not to touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time in case the vehicle has been livened by the lines.”

Wairarapa entered a prohibited fire season on January 23, and anybody who sees signs of fire should immediately call 111.

No open-air fires are allowed, and all previously issued fire permits have been revoked.

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

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