9 Oct 2015

Early and destructive start to fire season

6:20 pm on 9 October 2015

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 this week.

Smoke on Saddle Hill, Wednesday 7, 2015

Smoke on Saddle Hill, Wednesday 7, 2015 Photo: RNZ / Darryl Baser

The large blaze at Saddle Hill, near Mosgiel, was brought under control by Thursday morning, with more than 15 rural staff working with diggers and water tankers, locating hot spots under the ground.

A New Zealand Fire Service crew from Mosgiel was called to put out a 200 square metre fire that had reignited on Friday morning.

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

Mr O'Connor admitted the number of fires had put a strain on volunteers.

"We've been very stretched but fortunately the teams have managed to get by."

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 where they are unsafe, so training is so important."

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

Farmer says hot, dry weather brings risks

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

"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."

"This El Nino is a real worry. A fire on its own doesn't go too far, it's only when you get the wind behind it that it travels fast," Mr Bowler said.

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

"Early detection and early application of water on land is important."

More wind and heat forecast for October

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

Strong, hot winds have fanned the flames; with fire crews responding to up to 27 mainly scrub fires in the Otago and Canterbury regions.

Families were forced to flee their homes near Oxford in Canterbury on Wednesday as a fire burned out of control in the Sales Road - Ashley Gorge Road area.

The Fire Service said three fire-fighters had been treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

But MetService says the strong winds and high temperatures that have been fanning fires in the regions have eased.

Another fire at Dunback in north Otago burned for most of Wednesday, threatening homes, but has now been contained.

In Canterbury, State Highway 1 was closed this afternoon from the Rakaia River Bridge through to Bankside while fire-fighters battled a blaze on farmland.

Temperatures reached 27 degrees in Dunedin, with some parts of Canterbury getting close to 30 degrees.

Meteorologist Lisa Murray said a south-easterly change was being felt, leading to a drop in the temperature in Otago, where there has already been some rain.

Our reporter at the fire at Saddle Hill, Darryl Baser said it had begun raining late on Wednesday afternoon, and he could see the ash from the fires falling with the rain.

The Dunedin City Council said it had lost power to some of its water pumps due to the fire at Saddle Hill. A council spokesperson said they did not know how long it would take for power to be restored.

The Fire Service has responded to at least 27 scrub fires in total in Canterbury and Otago as both regions experienced very high temperatures and hot, dry winds.

Strong wind also caused disruption to flights at Dunedin Airport, with three incoming and four outgoing flights cancelled on Wednesday afternoon due to the weather.

More than 1000 people were without power across Canterbury, Otago and Southland as a result of the fires; however it has now been restored.