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Region’s rising fire risk

Fire and Emergency New Zealand [Fenz] has declared a prohibited fire season for Wairarapa’s coast as of 8am this morning until further notice.

No open-air fires are allowed, and all existing fire permits are revoked.

Fenz community risk manager Philip Soal said the hot, dry, and windy weather along Wairarapa’s coast has dried out grass and vegetation to such an extent that the fire danger is considered to be very high.

“The Wairarapa coast is predominantly pasture grasses, coastal dune grasses, scrub and young pine which are all prone to burning easily once dry,” he said. Fenz anticipates that as the weather conditions continue, these areas will dry out further.

Fire and emergency crews from the region were deployed again yesterday to a substantial vegetation fire in Kahutara near Lake Wairarapa that had first been put out on Friday afternoon.

The initial response to the fire on Friday began at 10.30am, with crews from Featherston, Carterton, and Lake Ferry extinguishing the blaze by late afternoon with the assistance of a helicopter that was stood down at 4pm once the fire came under control.

The same fire then flared up again yesterday morning at about 8am, prompting a response from Featherston and Martinborough with a total of three appliances, and a tanker each from the Masterton and Remutaka brigades, while both Ngāwī and Lake Ferry crews were also on the scene to assist.

A Fenz spokesperson said they could not say how the fire started on Friday and could only speculate that Sunday’s dry and windy conditions caused the flare-up.

The first helicopter called to Kahutara yesterday was brought in to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby trees on the nearby Department of Conservation [DOC] Boggy Pond reserve in the Wairarapa Moana wetlands.

As the fire approached the DOC reserve, a duty ranger was sent to the scene as part of DOC’s standard response to such situations.

A second helicopter was called shortly before midday after the first helicopter on the scene requested additional support, a Fenz spokesperson said.

The fire had spanned across an area of 100 metres by 50 metres by midday yesterday – covering just over one acre of land.

The dense scrub had been difficult to access on Friday and considered “tricky” to put out.

No homes were at risk due to the fire as the scrubland sat between Lake Wairarapa and empty paddocks.

Over the weekend, crews in Eketāhuna also responded to reports of trees on fire on Saturday, an incident that occupied them from 5.22pm until 8.39pm.

A Fenz spokesperson confirmed that crews had returned to the scene at 2pm yesterday to continue dampening down hot spots – sections of burnt land that had retained heat and posed a risk of igniting again.

While coastal areas of Wairarapa are now in a prohibited fire season in which no open-air fires are permitted and all existing permits have been revoked, other parts of the region remain in a restricted season.

Fenz encourages anyone who plans on lighting fires this season to check weather conditions and also asks that people not use power tools and equipment that generate heat or sparks during this extra dry weather.

Lawnmowers, chainsaws, and power tools all have the potential to spark wildfires.

Soal asks people to take extra care as the dry weather continues and to not carry out any activities that could pose a fire risk, including mowing, welding, and driving through long grass.

People are also asked to take some simple steps to make their properties easier to defend against fire by clearing flammable material from 10 metres around homes and buildings, including clearing gutters of any materials.

Residents can also keep grass short using a trimmer with a nylon line rather than mowers with metal blades [all trimmings should be removed from the property].

“If it’s hot and windy, do not light a fire, even if you have a permit,” Soal said.

  • Those in areas where permitted fires are allowed can apply for an open-fire permit – as well as get tips on how to stay ‘fire safe’ – at www.checkitsalright.nz.

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