Winds fan fires across province, more today

After high winds created challenging conditions for firefighters in incidents across Otago yesterday, the MetService says severe gales are possible in parts of the South again today.

The MetService has issued a weather watch for Central Otago and Southern Lakes for the 17 hours from 1pm today, saying westerly winds could rise to severe gales in exposed places.

Yesterday, emergency services in Clutha, Arrowtown and Alexandra were called to deal with a range of downed power lines and property fires throughout the day.

In Alexandra, a "mowing operation'' caused a fire at Black Ridge vineyard.

Fire and Emergency (Fenz) and rural fire crews responded to a call just after 3pm, when areas of the vineyard were ablaze.

A helicopter douses a fire at Black Ridge Vineyard and Winery near Alexandra yesterday. PHOTO:...
A helicopter douses a fire at Black Ridge Vineyard and Winery near Alexandra yesterday. PHOTO: ADAM BURNS

Alexandra Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Russell Anderson said it all happened very quickly.

"It was a perfect storm for the vineyard, unfortunately.''

High winds made it challenging for fire crews.

Fire restrictions have been in place for the Central Otago region since December 31.

Mr Anderson said the incident was reminder of the volatility of the Alexandra area.

"[Black Ridge] were undertaking normal vineyard operations. But the dry conditions and the wind contributed.''

Crews were able to limit the blaze to the confines of the vineyard section.

A helicopter with a monsoon bucket made several passes over the fire as crews battled the blaze, and rural fire crews monitored the scene from Conroys Rd.

Mr Anderson confirmed two rural fire crews were "checking for hot spots'' by 6pm.

Black Ridge vineyard sales manager Pam Ross said "everyone was OK''.

In Balclutha, power lines were brought down by the wind, causing a temporary breakdown in communications for the Clutha District Council.

Council emergency management officer and fire warden Brendon Smith said quick action from staff had prevented a more serious incident, after several electrical devices "blew out'' at its headquarters during high winds about 10am.

The incident was believed to have been due to a fallen tree damaging power lines in the southern area of Rosebank.

Mr Smith said although initially staff had detected small amounts of smoke and a "smell of burning'', leading to a manual fire alarm response, Balclutha fire officers declared the building safe about 10.40am.

However, due to damaged electronic and communications equipment, the office had experienced "multiple technical issues'', and was forced to run temporarily on limited generator power.

Regular communications were out of action for about three hours, and phones were switched to "after-hours'', permitting only emergency service calls to be addressed.

Although normal service for ratepayers had now resumed, "severe'' damage had occurred to some parts of the offices and equipment, Mr Smith said.

The incident followed an earlier power outage nearby, in Wilson Rd, where lines fell due to high winds about 9.45am, cutting power to nearby homes.

Electricity network provider PowerNet arrived to repair the fault at 10.10am, and no outstanding outages were recorded on the company's online noticeboard as of 12.30pm.

In an incident about 2.30pm, a tractor on a Clifton farm was set ablaze by embers from a nearby rubbish fire.

Waiwera South Chief Fire Officer Maurice Walter said although there was no danger to other property during the incident, the tractor had been "totally destroyed''.

Two fire crews were called to Millcreek Guest House on Malaghans Rd in Arrowtown, at 3.49pm.

A Fenz spokesman said about 10m of trees on fire were extinguished by firefighters.


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