Rain a relief but fire risk remains high
The rainfall early this week eased the high fire risk in Central Otago but people still need to be extremely vigilant, the district’s principal rural fire officer says. Owen Burgess said 38.6mm fell in Alexandra during the 48 hours from 9am on Sunday. With the mercury regularly rising above 30degC during the past fortnight, the region had quickly become tinder dry. A prohibited fire season was in place. Mr Burgess said despite the brief respite, the prohibited fire season would remain because the area was certain to dry out again. ‘‘Yes, it has reduced it, but we are still in summer. There is still hot weather to come. ‘‘We are going to monitor it now and see what is happening out there, as far as dryness in the vegetation is concerned.’’ Rain effects hydrologist Dave Stewart, of Dunedin, said there was little rain on the radar during the next few weeks – and that could mean trouble for farmers and local fire authorities.
While farmers did not appear to be in ‘‘dire straits’’ yet and had in fact had been busy haymaking, a good 10-15mm of rain in the next few days would be very helpful, particularly for winter crops. The rain and lack of wind in early January had been ‘‘hugely helpful’’ to farmers and had ensured the current spell of hot weather had not yet hit them too hard. Mr Burgess said now was an ideal time for people with empty sections – which created a huge fire threat in Central Otago – to mow them and remove the clippings. Due to the rain earlier in the week, the risk of fire over the next few days was reduced so sparks from mowers were less likely to cause a fire. He praised people’s responsible behaviour so far but reminded farmers who were hay-making or using machinery to ensure they carried water in case their equipment started a fire. ‘‘If they can attack a fire early on, it can help put it out quickly,’’ he said.
Hot summer: Dry conditions at Gimmerburn. Photo: Jan MacKenzie