7 Jan 2016

Fire ban coming as Otago battles dry conditions

10:32 am on 7 January 2016

Firefighters in Otago are on high alert as they face the driest January they have seen in more than a decade.

    The water supply for the North Bruce Rural Water Scheme is running critically low.

Photo: SUPPLIED

A total fire ban is expected to be imposed across the region, excluding only the Catlins area.

Deputy Principal Rural Fire Officer for Central Otago Pete Scarlet said such dry conditions were unusual for this time of year and were normally not seen until at least February.

He said the risk of fire was increasing by the day.

"It's possibly the driest we've seen in around 10 years in some places across our region and the long term forecast doesn't look like we're going to get a lot more rain in the next few months, so we are preparing for quite a dry period," he said.

Mr Scarlet asked people to take extra care not to accidentally ignite fires and warned farmers to be cautious when cutting grass and operating chainsaws.

"We urge people to be extra careful, think about what they're doing and when it comes to fire, you cannot be too careful. Fire is very unpredictable and it won't take a lot in these dry conditions to start one."

The Otago Rural Fire Authority was monitoring the Catlins and said the total fire ban may be extended to that area if conditions worsened.

Rural fire service appliance in Porirua.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Meanwhile, the Dunedin City Council urged residents to conserve water.

Demand for water had increased as people returned from their holidays, the council said.

It was asking residents, especially in the Waikouaiti and Karitane areas, to avoid using too much.

Council water and waste group manager Laura McElhone said people should try not to use sprinklers, wash their cars with hoses or use too much water in their gardens.

She said the council was struggling to ensure there was enough water stored to fight fires.

"We take the water out of river and we store it in our reservoirs. Should there be a significant fire then that water is really vital to the fire fighting services so we really try to avoid actually having to put that water out to supply people's day to day needs."

Ms McElhone said water restrictions could be need to enforced if not enough water was conserved and there was no substantial rain soon.