Fire concerns as Canterbury temperatures rise

5:21 pm on 22 December 2017

Extremely dry conditions and rising temperatures in Canterbury have fire crews and local councils concerned about a repeat of last summer's massive fires.

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Huge fires in the Port Hills last summer burned through 2000ha of land Photo: RNZ / Logan McMillan

This summer, scattered showers have not done much to change the already dry conditions, with temperatures next week expected to soar over 30 degrees.

Last summer, a fire on Christchurch's Port Hills tore through over 2000 hectares of forest, gutting eleven homes and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.

Another large fire near Hanmer Springs shut the main inland route between Christchurch and Picton.

Hurunui district mayor Winton Dalley said the area was very dry already, and he was concerned.

"When you have dry conditions and you have a huge amount of fuel the whole community needs to be aware of the risk... Every area needs to be vigilant," he said.

Rural fire manager Richard MacNamara said firefighting efforts were initially hampered by a lack of helicopters, as most were up north of Kaikōura helping to rebuild the earthquake-damaged State Highway 1.

This summer there were fire-fighting aircraft ready to be put on standby if need be, he said.

"We are ensuring there will always [be] some capability by putting aircraft on standby if we need too.

"There is a cost ... but we are more than happy to pay if we need those machines ready to go."

Fire crews were also conducting wargame-like drills to simulate fire-fighting scenarios, he said.

Kaikōura fire chief Ian Walker said his crew of 25 volunteer firefighters was ready to go.

The area was already in a restricted fire season and his brigade was well supplied ahead of an expected busy summer, he said.

"In the Kaikōura area we have very good equipment, it's well maintained, and we have very good staff," he said.

The big change this summer for the fire service was that rural and urban fire brigades were now united under a single organisation - Fire Emergency New Zealand.

The new organisation aimed to fix problems with communication, but Winton Dalley said it would take another fire to see how it worked.

"Early days yet - I guess it is to be tested in a major event," he said.

Metservice expected temperatures to reach over 30 degrees in some Canterbury towns, including Christchurch, over Christmas.

Meanwhile, a fire ban is in effect in the Queenstown Lakes district.

Campfires, burn-offs and bonfires are forbidden for people in Queenstown, Arrowtown and the surrounding areas.

A total fire ban has been in place in neighbouring Central Otago for three weeks because of a hot and dry start to summer.

Otago principal rural fire officer Graeme Still sayid the bans had come into effect much earlier than normal and recent rain had not lowered the threat.

Enclosed outdoor fires, solid fuel barbecues and gas-fired cooking appliances were still allowed, but people needed to be sensible, Mr Still said.

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