Fire permits to cease as heat goes on

Wanaka teenagers (from left), James Simpkin (14), Callum Rennie (14), Lewis Brooks (14) and Dougal Stalker (13) cool off in Lake Wanaka yesterday afternoon. Photo by Mark Price.
Wanaka teenagers (from left), James Simpkin (14), Callum Rennie (14), Lewis Brooks (14) and Dougal Stalker (13) cool off in Lake Wanaka yesterday afternoon. Photo by Mark Price.
Another fine day with warm temperatures across Otago yesterday has helped raise concerns about the lighting of fires.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Department of Conservation will stop issuing fire permits for two weeks from tomorrow and the same applies in the Central Otago district from Sunday.

Department of Conservation Wakatipu rural fire officer Jamie Cowan explained yesterday that enclosed fires with chimneys and devices such as charcoal and gas-fired burners were allowed, although he urged common sense in their use.

A decision not to issue permits had the same effect as imposing a total fire ban - also known as a prohibited fire season - but did not need to be gazetted and could therefore be more easily relaxed if conditions allowed.

Queenstown Lakes District Council communications manager Meaghan Miller said yesterday the council and Doc had been reviewing the fire risk this week but considered things were ''a little bit green yet'' to justify a total fire ban.

''But it will happen. It's just a matter of whether it's just before or just after Christmas. But we're not quite there yet.''

Last summer a total fire ban was imposed on January 6. The council and the department have warned that anyone causing a fire that gets out of control could be liable for the costs of putting it out.

Temperatures yesterday reached 25degC in Alexandra, 23degC in Cromwell, Wanaka and Ranfurly and 22degC in Queenstown.

Central Otago orchardists said a series of hot days this week had ''speeded up'' the fruit season. After a cold snap a couple of weeks ago, and following a cool spring, they said the season had slowed down and the harvest was estimated at being about a week behind usual.

''These past few hot days and warmer evening temperatures mean the harvest won't be as late as we thought,'' cherry grower Hugh Dendy, of Cromwell, said this week.