The concern about the risk of fires in the east of the South Island this weekend is so high that Fire and Emergency has set up an incident management team in mid-Canterbury to be ready.

Most of the South Island is under fire restrictions or total fire bans — and scorching temperatures of more than 30 degrees are forecast in the coming days.

Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) wildfire specialist Paul Shaw said there was “extreme concern” about the risk of fires on the east coast of the South Island, and caution and vigilance were needed.

The ground had started to dry out rapidly, and severe heat was an added layer of risk.

It was probably the most extreme fire season since about 2018, Shaw said.

“We’ve got to look back quite a few years before we start seeing conditions like this. We have had them in the past, but again, it’s just ramping up this season to look pretty extreme in some parts of the country,” he said.

Areas of the highest concern included the Mackenzie Country, central Otago, southern Marlborough and Canterbury, he said.

“We get a lot of those warm, dry winds coming off the Southern Alps, sweeping down across the Canterbury plains, so we’re expecting that to start to dry out significantly in the near future as well.”

Total fire bans are in place for parts of Northland, Hauraki, Wairarapa, Marlborough, inland Canterbury and Otago. Some areas of the Wairarapa coast were also a concern – and would likely move to a total fire ban on Monday.

Reducing the danger

Fire crews were well trained, briefed, and resourced — and an incident management team had been set up in mid-south Canterbury, to be on standby in case the worst happened, Shaw said.

But the public had a part to play, too.

“If you don’t have to light a fire, please don’t light a fire this weekend,” Shaw urged.

“If you have had fires going, can you please actually check those fires and make sure they’re properly out.

Fire truck.

“Any wind can pick up an ember that’s still sitting there, carry it into some dry grass, and we’ve got another fire going.”

Firefighters were on Friday dampening hotspots at two major vegetation fires that broke out on Thursday.

A blaze ripped through 10 hectares of Whitireia Park in Porirua’s Tītahi Bay.

And there was a six-hectare vegetation fire in Kirwee, west of Christchurch – the second big blaze there in five days.

Protect your property from fire risks – FENZ

FENZ Otago and Waitaki district manager Phil Marsh said despite wet days forecast, the area was so dry the risk would remain, and asked people to take steps to reduce the fire risk.

Dunedin, Clutha and Coastal Waitaki enter a restricted fire season this weekend, which means a permit will be needed for any open-air fires.

“We’ve already had a number of significant fires in these conditions this season.”

He said people should take extra care this summer, particularly if they were camping or working outdoors, and they could take simple steps to protect their properties if a fire were to break out.

How to reduce the risk of fire at your place

  • Clear flammable material from 10 metres around homes and buildings, and from under desks
  • Move firewood stacked against houses
  • Clear gutters of dried leaves that can easily catch fire
  • Trim trees and bushes and remove trimmings
  • Keep grass short – and beware of metal blade mowers that could create sparks.

By Lauren Crimp of rnz.co.nz

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