Large blaze at Olrig Station

Olrig Station co-owner Linda Stephens surveys the aftermath of a fire that ripped through the property and burned her husband's face early yesterday. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
Olrig Station co-owner Linda Stephens surveys the aftermath of a fire that ripped through the property and burned her husband's face early yesterday. Photo by Sarah Marquet.

A Galloway, Central Otago farmer had to run through flaming grass while helping to fight a large fire on his property early yesterday.

Olrig Station owner Richard Stephens received superficial burns and blisters to the side of his face in the incident but said that was his fault - ''I shouldn't have been where I was''.

Mr Stephens told the Otago Daily Times he got caught in a gully with long grass when the wind changed - ''and the only way to go was forward, so I had to run through it [the fire]''.

His wife Linda, a nurse, was able to give first aid, although an ambulance was called, she said.

Department of Conservation Otago Conservancy acting deputy principal rural fire officer Bill Johnsen said 12 tankers and appliances from ''all over'' the district fought the fire and the last to leave did so about 4.30am. Doc staff stayed behind to keep an eye on things.

Mr Stephens, who declined to be photographed, paid tribute to the firefighters.

''The turnout by the fire brigades was absolutely tremendous. It didn't take that long to put out but it could have been much worse.

''Everything in the area was absolutely tinder dry; it was pretty scary in that wind.''

The northwest winds reached estimated speeds of more than 50kmh.

Mrs Stephens said the first they knew of the fire was when her husband saw fire trucks rushing past their driveway.

''He came running inside to change into his work clothes ... you could smell it and see the glow.''

Mr Stephens said he then rushed out with his ''wee spray truck'' to help.

While the official cause of the fire was yet to be established, Mr Stephens said there were two scenarios.

''We have got a lot of campers down here ... quite a few people said they saw what they thought was a flare, like a marine flare, going up in the air, so that could have started it, but there were also reports of two people with torches running down the hill just prior to the fire starting.''

Mr Johnsen said that given Central Otago's fire status, if a flare had been set off, it was ''totally irresponsible'' .

''The whole thing didn't need to happen. People were being totally stupid and irresponsible.''

Doc staff were involved because the fire was within 1km of Doc land, in this case, the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Mr Johnsen said police were involved and the department would be seeking costs if the offenders were caught.

Mr Stephens said there was no stock in the paddock and ''such a small area on a property my size [about 6070ha] doesn't have an economic effect''.

Other Central Otago brigades were also busy on New Year's Eve. Cromwell Chief Fire Officer Steve Shaw said his volunteers were called to three fires, the first about 11pm, thought to have been started by fireworks. About 80m by 30m of ''bare land'' with long grass on Waenga Dr was burnt.

Soon after, they were called to another grass fire near the golf course. Their final call was to an empty section near The Chalets Holiday Park. Mr Shaw said fireworks had set fire to an area of long grass about 20m by 20m.

The Roxburgh Volunteer Fire Brigade was called to a grass fire at Shingle Creek about 11.30pm.

Chief Fire Officer David Rooney said strong winds caused power lines to arc, which set fire to the grass. The flames had been doused by a farmer by the time the brigade got there.

sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz