Ban as hot winds dry landscape

Owen Burgess.
Owen Burgess.
The golden run of weather being relished by holiday-makers has boosted the fire risk in Central Otago and prompted a total fire ban, which will come into force tonight at midnight.

''The fire weather indices are telling us the fire danger's moving into the `very high' category, after the series of hot, dry, windy days we've had, with more on the horizon,'' Central Otago principal rural fire officer Owen Burgess, of Alexandra, said last night.

His warning came in the wake of a fire in a Patearoa grain paddock yesterday afternoon. The fire, which burnt 0.4ha, was believed to have started from a spark after harvesting machinery hit a rock.

Ranfurly Fire Brigade deputy chief fire officer David Millar said the contractor was about halfway through harvesting when the fire started. The stubble and the remaining unharvested grain burnt quickly but fortunately it was a calm day and the fire was brought under control quickly, he said.

''Things are getting very dry and the forecast is for it to get hotter and hotter.''

Mr Millar said it was the second fire of that nature attended by the brigade in less than a week. The first fire started as grain stubble was being ploughed under.

Mr Burgess said although there were several significant rainfalls throughout the district early in January, it had been at least two weeks since any rain in some areas, like Alexandra.

''We've had a series of hot, windy days too, so the moisture is being sucked out and there's a big amount of fuel loading out there, because of the rain earlier on. The concern is how rapidly any fire would spread. ''

"It's deceiving, because the countryside looks green but underneath, things are getting dry and the bigger fires we've had this summer took hold very quickly,'' he said.

The prohibition on open fires in the urban and rural areas of Central Otago would remain in force until further notice. Gas barbecues were permitted but the use of any open flames, including braziers or solid energy-type barbecues, was banned. No permits would be issued for fires and the prohibition also covered Department of Conservation-administered land and the Naseby Forest, Mr Burgess said.

''There's no sign of any rain on the horizon until at least next Monday and then it's more likely the rain would be localised, like thunderstorms, so it wouldn't do much to lessen the fire risk.''

Last summer was drier early on, and a prohibited fire season was declared on January 6, 2012.

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz