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Rising risk sparks bang ban

Just over two weeks since the region moved into a prohibited fire season, Fire and Emergency New Zealand [Fenz] has imposed a further ban on fireworks and sky lanterns for the Wellington District, which includes Wairarapa.

The ban, imposed under Section 52 of the Fire and Emergency Act, came into effect at 8am yesterday and will remain in place until further notice.

Today marks the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, when fireworks and sky lanterns are traditionally released as part of the celebrations.

Wellington District community risk manager Phil Soal said the fire danger risk in Wellington and Wairarapa has escalated, and the potential use of sky lanterns is too risky.

“We are encouraging people to celebrate safely without fireworks or sky lanterns,” Soal said.

“All it takes to start a large fire is a small spark.”

Public events in Wellington will be able to go ahead as controlled pyrotechnics with safety plans in place do not fall under the ban.

Soal also encouraged people to call 111 immediately if they see signs of a fire – particularly in rural areas.

“Please don’t assume someone else will have done that,” he said.

“The sooner our crews are called out, the more chance we have of containing a fire quickly and limiting the damage.”

Fire crews across Wairarapa have responded to multiple callouts over the past few weeks.

One of the most recent was a vegetation fire measuring 200 by 70 metres in Ōpaki just after 7pm on Thursday evening, which prompted a response from Masterton, Carterton, and Mauriceville brigades. Two appliances and a tanker from Masterton responded to the roadside paddock fire, along with another appliance and tanker from Carterton, and a rural appliance from Mauriceville.

A section of Paierau Rd was closed by police as the crews worked to extinguish the fire and re-opened at about 9pm.

Although there has been speculation among residents on social media that the fire had been sparked by a passing motorist throwing a cigarette from their window, Fenz was unable to confirm the cause of the fire.

While the region remains dry and hot, there is a heightened fire risk, which then prompts a larger fire response.

A Fenz spokesperson said that over recent weeks, there have been instances of people burning rubbish, “which isn’t helpful when there’s a total fire ban in place”.

Fenz Wairarapa area assistant commander Craig Cottrill also told the Times-Age about a series of callouts on Wednesday where the dry conditions had exacerbated several fires.

“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,” Cottrill emphasised, after exactly this happened in relation to two incidents last 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,” he added.

A Fenz spokesperson also iterated that while a tanker is always sent to rural callouts, access and knowledge of open water sources is essential for crews to do their jobs efficiently.

As such, after calling to report a fire, it is always helpful for people to remain near the site or at the roadside in a safe spot to help direct fire crews when they arrive.

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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