Train sparked destructive crop fire

A train is believed to have ignited a large blaze that destroyed a vast crop and threatened to spread into nearby areas of Chertsey yesterday, firefighters say.

Damaged brake pads found lying next to the railway lines were initially suspected of causing the blaze after the northbound train passed through the area south of Chertsey about 2.30pm, but Kiwirail says checks have found no problems with the train with investigations set to continue.

Ashburton principal rural fire officer Don Geddes said firefighters turned up to find multiple fires scattered along a 1km stretch of the railway lines being fanned into a nearby wheat crop, ending just metres from State Highway 1.

Mr Geddes said 4.3 hectares was engulfed by the blaze, spurring rural volunteers from Lauriston, Ashburton Rural, Willowby and Pendarves along with brigade volunteers from Ashburton, Rakaia and Dunsandel into action.

Five water tankers and four pumps were in full operation at the scene, with firefighters using nearby water races to help douse the blaze in about 90 minutes.

"The main concern for us was the embers being transported into a hedge or paddocks over the highway, luckily we were able to put it out and we also had a big tarmac firebreak to stop that," Mr Geddes said.

Traffic travelling in both directions along State Highway 1 was detoured on to Somerton road, accessed by Jamiesons Road in the south and Wilkinsons Road in the north.

Mr Geddes said it was uncommon for trains to cause fires in flat-lying areas.

A Kiwirail spokesperson said a driver of its southbound freight service notified emergency services of the blaze after his colleague passed through the area earlier.

"While our northbound train could have caused the fire our initial checks of the locomotive and wagons haven't found any problems. We will do further checks tonight," she said.

"There are no brake pads missing and the ones found could have been beside the tracks for some time."

The spokesperson said fires were "occasionally" sparked by trains throughout New Zealand, and it was unknown if Kiwirail would be financially charged from the incident.

- Myles Hume of the Ashburton Guardian

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