Uncontrolled burns give Fenz grief

A significant increase in uncontrolled burns in the Otago region has Fire and Emergency New Zealand frustrated.

Otago district principal rural fire officer Graeme Still said the number of incidents had increased 60% on this time last year - "this is something out of the ordinary".

Graeme Still.
Graeme Still.

He said people were not taking into consideration burn time, weather conditions and proximity to structures and surrounds before burning.

"With these strong winds, it's a recipe for disaster."

The scale of fires varied, he said, but the many incidents occurring in hard-to-reach areas made the job difficult. "We've had to put a few helicopters in lately due to access problems."

Conditions have resulted in drier-than-average vegetation for the time of year; radiant heat from a fire can ignite nearby dry vegetation.

He said frost curing made this worse, as it dried out dead grass, which could act as a kind of kindling.

What was frustrating was many of the incidents attended were avoidable.

"People aren't giving themselves enough time ... there's no excuse for it. Don't just look to the sky and go, oh, it will be all right."

Eight call-outs in the past 12 days had been avoidable, he said. Some cases were caused by improper extinguishing, while others were instances of fires being lit when they simply should not have been - for instance, when it was too dry and too windy for it to be safe.

THESE included fires from uncontrolled tussock burns and slash piles and covered varying areas from 160ha to 110ha outside the controlled burn area.

Some fires were getting close to structures such as sheds and buildings, he said, while another was in a cleared forestry area.

"It is an open fire season but this does not mean there are no rules. Safe burning practices still apply - people need to take all reasonable steps to make sure their fire is safe before, during and after burning, and we are happy to help them do this."

He said it was important to check the weather forecast to ensure no strong winds were predicted for the 48 hours following burning. Wind and the decrease in relative humidity was the biggest cause of out-of-control fires in Otago over this period.

Fire and Emergency can provide advice and guidance on how to burn safely - phone 0800 673-473.

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