8 Oct 2015

Southern Fire Service stretched by 1,000 call-outs

6:17 pm on 8 October 2015

The Fire Service's resources have been extremely stretched over the past 24 hours, with more than a thousand call outs in the South Island.

Dunback fire, Wednesday 17 October 2015

The fire at Dunback Photo: Supplied

Fire crews are continuing to damp down hotspots after fires broke out in Otago and Canterbury, leaving a woman in hospital, damaging houses and destroying nine buildings yesterday.

The large blaze at Saddle Hill, near Mosgiel, is under control with 15 rural staff working with diggers and water tankers, locating hot spots under the ground.

In Canterbury, winds have died down significantly with fire crews continuing to monitor numerous vegetation fires.

National Rural Fire Officer Kevin O'Connor said crews will remain on standby over the next few days to ensure all fires are extinguished.

"We've been very stretched but fortunately the teams have managed to get by. We do have crews on standby in the North Island to come down and give them relief if needed."

Mr O'Connor said more resources were always needed, but it was about making sure crews were well prepared for the fire season.

"Safety is always paramount, we don't want to put fire fighters in places were they are in safe, so training is so important. Rural fire fighters in particular train throughout the year."

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Photo: Twitter

Mr O'Connor said land owners needed to be aware of the fire danger, and if they are lighting rubbish fires they needed to discuss conditions with their local fire authority and make sure they get a permit.

"For the general public if they see any fires burning they should report them immediately, the other thing is to try and reduce the fire risk by making sure there is not heavy bush growth next to buildings and if people are using lawn mowers or equipment they do not create sparks," Mr Connor said.

He said the El Nino will mean there was a higher chance of fires this summer.

North Canterbury farmer Mike Bowler said fire risk was a problem, especially as the region continued to battle with drought.

"At the moment conditions are pretty good, we have had a bit of rain of the last two months but this wind is drying things out again, the hot and dry weather is really concerning. We are only 10 days away from drought if the wind continues like this."

Mr Bowler said dealing with weather was part of farming, but the hot temperatures and high winds did take their toll.

"I spent $230,000 on feeding my stock last year for extra feed, if we go through another season like that I will probably have to get out of farming. It will be too much."

A fire blazes on Saddle Hill, Dunedin

A fire blazes on Saddle Hill, Dunedin Photo: RNZ / Darryl Baser

Mr Bowler said he would not wish on anyone the conditions he had to deal with last year.

"This El Nino is a real worry, it's the wind that is concerning. A fire on its own doesn't go too far, it's only when you get the wind behind it that it travels fast, and it seems the winds have started early this year.

"You can prepare for fires to a certain extent. I just make sure all my water tanks are full around the farm and ensure I always have spray equipment on my tractors for when I am out and about," Mr Bowler said.

North Canterbury Federated Farmers president Frank Brenmuhl said farmers across the country understood the risks hot, dry weather brought.

"With fires, there is not a lot that farmers can do - obviously avoid creating sparks, so no mowing in hot weather, and checking equipment for birds nests which are common at this time of the year.

"If fire was to break out in North Canterbury, potentially it could be very damaging. But I have a lot of faith in the Rural Fire Service and usually farmers are good at spotting the warning signs quickly. Early detection and early application of water on land is important.

"Weather is what farmers deal with on a daily basis, they don't sit down and worry about what could happen in a weeks time, they are solely focused on the day ahead."

The MetService said eastern regions across the whole country will see above average temperatures and strong westerly winds in October.