9 Jan 2010

Fires flare around the country as rivers dry up

10:15 pm on 9 January 2010

A rash of fires around the country in the past two days has underlined the dry conditions prevailing in many areas, where rivers are drying to a trickle.

Firefighters in Gisborne - where several sawmill buildings were damaged in a big fire on Friday - extinguished a 7ha scrub fire that was threatening to engulf homes in the Kaiti Hill area on Saturday afternoon.

The fire was initially considered so severe that an all-resources alarm was sent out for every available firefighter to help control the blaze.

But it was safely brought under control, and the rural fire service took on the task of dampening down the hot spots.

In Pyes Pa, near Tauranga, the Fire Service was called to a 3ha blaze on Williams Road just before 4pm.

Nine appliances tackled the fire, which was near a residential area but not threatening any homes.

Fire widely visible over Wellington

In Wellington earlier, firefighters contained a large blaze that raged in the hills above the city.

The fire, on Mt Victoria, started at around 1pm near the old chest hospital and was visible from many parts of the capital. It burned about two hectares of vegetation.

Fire officer Brent Pritchard says it took 24 firefighters about 40 minutes to contain the blaze, the cause of which was unknown.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Porirua, north of Wellington, extinguished a scrub fire in a suburban park.

The Fire Service says it was called to the blaze, in Ascot Park, at about 1.30pm. Two appliances were able to bring the fire under control in about an hour.

Councils tightening control of water use

Councils throughout the country are tightening their controls on water use as many rivers threaten to dry to a trickle.

The rural fire service is also warning of the risk of fire, with some areas experiencing their driest summer in 30 years.

Many councils say the weather has been much drier much earlier than usual.

The director of resource management for the Otago Regional Council, Selva Selvarajah, says his area is used to summer droughts, but this year dry conditions took hold in spring.

The council has advised farmers that some rivers are too dry to be used for irrigation any longer.

Dr Selvarajah says long-range forecasts suggest there will be little rain in Otago for the coming weeks.

The Canterbury Regional Council has also restricted some waterway use.

Whangarei's driest three months since 1971

In the North Island, the Whangarei District Council is calling for voluntary measures to save water following what it says is the driest three-month period the region has seen since records began in 1971.

The national rural fire officer, Murray Dudfield, says the whole of Northland is extremely dry. He says fire restrictions are also in place in parts of the East Coast and Marlborough.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council has increased the number of irrigation bans in place as river levels drop.