Firefighters work through night to contain blaze
GRAEME Still is ‘‘pretty knackered’’.
The Otago principal rural fire officer was one of about 24 firefighters tackling a large blaze in a pine tree plantation at Bucklands Crossing, near Waikouaiti, yesterday.
He said yesterday’s fire in Mountain Rd was caused by a burnoff that occurred about six weeks ago, which flared up again in high winds.
‘‘The wind lifts these fires up and they come back to bite us in the ass.’’
At their strongest, he believed gusts reached up to 60kmh.
The wind was also blowing embers from one shelter belt to another, he said.
Four helicopters with monsoon buckets spent much of yesterday afternoon working on the fire, along with several ground crews who were expecting to work into the night and again this morning.
By last night, it had burned an area of about 16ha and, while under control, continued to burn.
Helicopters had been stood down for the night, but at least one crew of firefighters was expected to remain overnight.
Helicopters Otago chief pilot Graeme Gale, whose son David was flying one of the choppers, said conditions were ‘‘really challenging’’ yesterday.
Mr Still said it was his second major fire in the space of a week, following a vegetation blaze at Cornish Point, near Cromwell, on Monday.
‘‘I’m pretty knackered,’’ he said.
Between the larger fires and a handful of Guy Fawkesrelated issues, Otago firefighters have had a busy week.
While coastal Otago was not too bad, conditions in Central Otago were very dry, Mr Still said.
Deputy incident controller Michael Harrison urged everyone in Otago not to light fires, as forecasted warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds were ‘‘a recipe for disaster’’.
‘‘If we were to have another big fire in our district, this would start to stretch our available resources.’’
As a result of the fire, the Dunedin City Council has also asked Waikouaiti and Karitane residents to conserve their water use over the next few days by not using garden hoses and sprinklers.
Three Waters group manager Tom Dyer said the council was limiting its water intake from the Waikouaiti River to the water treatment plant to ensure the fire ash in the river did not get into the water intake.
The intake is located a couple of hundred metres from the site of the fire, he said.
‘‘At this stage, the water conservation notice is just for the weekend.
‘‘However, we may have to limit the intake again following the next decent rainfall because this will potentially flush any residual ash which is still upstream down towards the intake.’’
Pilot David Gale lowers a BK 117 helicopter through the heat haze and smoke to deliver a monsoon bucket of water to the seat of the fire near Bucklands Crossing yesterday.