Access to water a problem for rural firefighters

Fire crews work to control the fire raging though a four-bedroom homestead on Tokarahi-Tapui Rd...
Fire crews work to control the fire raging though a four-bedroom homestead on Tokarahi-Tapui Rd on January 29. Photo: Supplied
Access to water to fight fires in rural areas needs to be easier, Weston Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Bevan Koppert says.

On January 29, a Tokarahi-Tapui Rd house inland from Oamaru became engulfed in flames after a blaze, that started in the kitchen of the four-bedroom rental property, broke out shortly before 9am.

Crews from Duntroon, Weston, Oamaru, Kurow and the Waitaki Volunteer Rural Fire Force attended the fire.

It was initially reported that crews struggled to bring the blaze under control because of a shortage of water.

Weston Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Bevan Koppert on Friday said there were unconfirmed reports a nearby fire hydrant, that could have been used to fill a water tanker to help douse the fire, had been disconnected.

He said one of the challenges fighting fires in all rural areas was access to water.

"Water is a problem and it always has been. I believe it probably always will be.

"Rural people have got to realise accessing water is a problem in the country and as long as they realise this, they can probably help us by allowing us to use water systems, ponds, tanks.

"Some farms have big water tanks. We don’t know where they all are — it’s impossible for us to know.

"But if people let us know if there’s any water near to their place if something happens, we can operate a hell of a lot easier. It’s a matter of being able to fill our tankers."

Corriedale Water Management Ltd, founded in 2013, administers water supplies at Tokarahi, Awamoko, Kauru Hill and Windsor.

Under the former Tokarahi Water Scheme, fire hydrants were made available in the 1960s and 1970s, which were still available for use.

However, Corriedale Water Management Ltd director John McCone said the ageing fittings installed for "fire prevention" had not been upgraded since and might no longer be able to be used by fire crews.

While he was unaware of any issues that impacted on water supply from those hydrants, easy access to water from further afield to help fire crews needed to be addressed.

"We probably need to sit down somewhere in rural areas to work out where all this stuff [water] is coming from. We do have NOIC [North Otago Irrigation Scheme] water supplies running into farmers’ water supplies, where there are take-off points that could be made known to emergency services to get that water.

"It’s another cost to farmers, but then again there is critical water here and we need water out here because of our isolation.

"But the local knowledge isn’t being used out here.

"Sometimes you’ve got to ask these guys ‘how do we get at it?’ I know when there’s a fire the pressure’s on, but a bit of local knowledge can save you hours."


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