Luck sides with fire brigade

Tony Wellman.
Tony Wellman.
Wanaka firefighters had luck on their side when a fire broke out near the top of Little Mt Iron early yesterday.

Officer-in-charge station officer Tony Wellman said when they first arrived, just after 1am, the fire appeared to have the potential to become a major blaze.

''It was a bit scary when we first got there. It looked like it could take off.''

A strong nor'wester was blowing the fire through tinder-dry kanuka scrub on Department of Conservation land above the Hidden Hills subdivision.

But as 20 firefighters with four appliances and two tankers arrived, the wind dropped.

''We were pretty lucky, actually. It just died down as we got there.''

And as firefighters with hose reels and beaters worked on the steep hillside, rain began to fall.

The crews, from the Wanaka, Hawea and Luggate Volunteer Fire Brigades, had the fire under control within about an hour.

The fire started above the highest Hidden Hills house but the cause had not yet been established, Mr Wellman said.

There were no houses directly in the path of the fire.

Mt Iron was always a concern, he said, because of the amount of kanuka on it, and because of difficulties with access and the availability of water.

The brigade did a lot of practising on Mt Iron and locals were aware of the fire danger.

With strong winds continuing yesterday and little in the way of substantial rain, Mr Wellman considered the fire risk on Mt Iron remained high and a fire there could travel ''super quick'' when driven by the predominant nor'wester.

On January 4 last year, dozens of Mt Iron residents were evacuated from their houses as 50 firefighters fought a large vegetation fire for two hours.

It is believed fireworks started a large fire near the Waitaki River mouth on New Year's Eve.

Glenavy and Oamaru appliances attended the fire in Fisheries Rd, Glenavy, which was reported at 11.30pm.

''Even though it wasn't massive in size, it took quite some time to contain and fully extinguish, with the last crews leaving 11am [yesterday],'' Southern Fire communications shift manager Andrew Norris said.

It took firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the blaze.

In the Waitaki Valley, a skyrocket is believed to have caused a small vegetation fire near the Otematata Holiday Park in East Rd.

The New Year's Eve fire was quickly extinguished by locals wielding buckets. Detective Warren Duncan, of Oamaru, said the fire could have posed a threat to tents and campers in the area and he urged people to respect fire bans and avoid causing fire risks, given ''tinder dry'' conditions.

It was also a busy New Year's Day for Invercargill firefighters, who attended a suspicious fire in the kitchen of a house in John St, Invercargill. A person at the property was taken to Southland Hospital and treated for minor smoke inhalation, just after 2.30am.

Early on New Year's Day, volunteers from the Ohai, Nightcaps and Otautau Volunteer Fire Brigades battled a large blaze in a hedge on a Western Southland property.

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