Rural blazes keep firefighters busy

 South Canterbury firefighters didn't get much sleep last night with six rural fires around Ashburton, four of which may be linked and are being treated as suspicious.

Fire Service southern communications centre shift manager Andrew Norris said the first of the suspicious fires occurred on Boundary Rd in Willowby, south of Ashburton, at 4.18am where a large stack of hay bales, some 30m long, and a 100m hedge were ablaze.

"When we're talking about a hedge down there we're not talking your garden hedge, we're talking big macrocarpa trees and things like that."

Fire crews were still in attendance as of 7.30am.

At 4.35am, firefighters were called to nearby Fords Rd where a single tree was on fire.

"That one wasn't too bad,"Mr Norris said.

At 4.40am another hay bales fire was reported on Stranges Rd in Huntington, on the other side of Ashburton.

That was also dealt with quickly.

About an hour later on Tinwald Westerfield Mayfield Rd, north-west of Ashburton, there was a large barn fire.

Crews were still in attendance and arranging for a digger to arrive so it could pull the hay bales out so the flames could be more easily extinguished.

"It's a fair distance between some of the fires so whether it's one person or several people we don't know. But they could have been burning 15 minutes before they were actually seen," Mr Norris said.

"Or who knows, it could have just been a freak of nature and they were individual fires."

There were also two more fires in the region, a bonfire about 10.30pm and a paddock fire about 2.45am, but these were not being treated as suspicious.

Fire brigades from Ashburton, Rakaia, Methven, Geraldine, Mt Somers, Mayfield, Pendarves and Lauriston attended the fires.

"It meant an extremely busy night for the south Canterbury fire brigades. Not many firefighters would have slept in the region last night," Mr Norris said.

Police and a fire safety officer were investigating.


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