Fire­fight­ers work through night to con­tain blaze

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - DAISY HUD­SON

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.’’

PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

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.

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