The New Zealand Defence Force will investigate how a live
ammunition training exercise at an Army base near
Christchurch caused a large scrub fire today.
The blaze started at Burnham Military Training Area at West
Melton about noon, whipping through scrub and threatening
Sixty firefighters, up to six helicopters, 18 ground-based
appliances and 40 police staff were involved in the response
to the incident, which covered an area about 1km by 500
One soldier suffered minor injuries trying to put the fire
but there were no other injuries or reports of damage.
The fire was contained by early evening and firefighters from
10 appliances and Defence Force volunteers were preparing to
work through the night.
Incident controller Sergeant Greg Fagg, of the 3rd Emergency
Response Troop based at Burnham Military Camp, confirmed
there was rifle training for infantry soldiers today.
"As a result of our training activities a fire has started."
Sgt Fagg said the exercise was on a gravel area and there
"theoretically shouldn't have been any fires starting there".
The blaze had "got away" from a firefighting appliance that
was on site.
Mr Fagg was unsure whether live firing or explosions sparked
the fire, which did "exactly what it shouldn't have done".
"The cause of the fire will be determined by investigation
and from that we'll determine if our measures for fire
control need to be revised.
"However, it's just one of those things, you plan for it ...
but something happens that is out of the norm."
The training area is in an area that has been plagued by
scrub fires over the past fortnight.
The land is largely browned off, extremely dry, and the Fire
Service has warned against fires in the area.
Defence Force spokesman Major Aidan Shattock said an
assessment of environmental conditions, including fire risk,
must be completed before live firing is carried out and
anyone firing must adhere to safety procedures.
"They'll get approval from the fire master to conduct their
firing in that location and once that's done then they can
carry on with their live firing. If anyone fires on that
range they have to abide by those rules," he said.
Houses near West Melton Airport were evacuated and nearby
property owners told to prepare to leave as fire crews
struggled to control the blaze fanned by hot, dry nor-west
Old Coast Rd resident Kevin Righton, 62, was preparing to
flee as the fire neared his home.
"I'm panicking a bit. We're just a kilometre down the road
and the wind has really picked up," he said.
But by 4.30pm the fire was largely contained, although
firefighters and police continued to fight the flames last
night, keeping a close eye on wind conditions.