Rural fire battled by digger, helicopter sparks warning about machinery

A fire that raced towards a house in tinder dry rural Marlborough should serve as a reminder to take care with machinery, the regions rural fire chief says.
The rural fire force was called to the Waihopai Valley property about 3pm on Monday.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand Marlborough Kaikura principal rural fire officer Chris Hayles said the fire had spread through dry grass up a bank, blackening an area roughly 70 metres by 20m.

There was a house at the top of the bank, and it was creeping up there, Hayles said.


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The Blenheim Volunteer Fire Brigade and the Renwick Volunteer Fire Brigade attended to look after the house.

A helicopter also provided "a dozen or so monsoon buckets of water, filled from the back of a Hilux ute, Hayles said.

And a tractor was there, filling its bucket from a creek and splashing it around. It all helped ... We had a good outcome today.

Scott Hammond/Stuff
FENZ Marlborough Kaikura principal rural fire officer Chris Hayles warns against using machinery in the afternoon.

The fire was sparked by a worker grinding the top of a well pipe, sending sparks into some dry grass.

The worker likely thought he was operating the machinery safely, until it was too late, Hayles said.

It was accidental. But its so dry at the moment, it doesnt take much.

The tinder dry conditions into Autumn meant the upper tracks of Blenheims popular recreation reserve, the Wither Hills Farm Park, remained closed.

Marlborough District Council parks and open spaces officer Robin Dunn said a significant amount of rain was still needed to reduce the fire indices enough to reopen the tracks.

Although temperatures are dropping and morning dews occurring, the indices are still very high for the Lower Wairau/Awatere and Wither Hills, he said. We will monitor the fire indices with FENZ and look to reopen the park as soon as the fire risk drops below the park closure trigger point.

Signs were in place at entry points. People were still able to use the Lower Farm Track, Mapp Track, Rifle Range and Stockyard Tracks or Taylor River Reserve tracks.

Brya Ingram
It was "all-hands-to-the-pump" - for firefighters, residents and reporters - when the Wither Hills in Blenheim caught fire on Boxing Day, 2000.

Marlborough's total fire ban was likely to last for at least another month, Hayles said.

We are getting a bit of relief in the mornings now, its not as hot. But it is very dry still, and it will take a lot of rain to change that.

Best practice was to use machinery in the morning while it was still cool and possibly a bit damp, rather than in the heat of the day when everything had dried out, Hayles said.

Anything that generates heat and sparks ride-on mowers, farm machinery we do need to be careful.

Learn more about the total fire ban and fire safety advice for rural activities at checkitsalright.nz.

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