Bay's fire risk high but nothing like Australia's

By Julia Proverbs

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Bush and scrub fires on the scale of those seen in Australia and Canterbury this week are unlikely to happen in the Western Bay of Plenty.

Barry Low, principal rural fire officer for the Western Bay Moana Rural Fire Authority, said while it could not be ruled out, the conditions in the region meant there was only a low to moderate risk.

"Australia has got a totally different fire climate to us. The landscape is very dry and it is vegetated with eucalyptus trees, which are full of oil, a very volatile fuel that burns extremely hot and extremely fast. The other difference is they have a much hotter and dryer summer than we have so the fuels dry out extremely fast," he explained.

The fast-moving Canterbury fires were fanned by warm, dry, north-westerly winds, that also rapidly dried out vegetation, he added.

The predominant wind in the Western Bay was westerly and the climate was generally more humid.

"It's not the same fire environment here," he said.

But people should not be complacent, he warned.

"You still have fire danger obviously. As things dry out they are going to burn as easily as anywhere else, so people should be careful. If you put a decent wind behind any fire it will move pretty rapidly and if you have the right fuel you could be in trouble."

"Corridors" around rail tracks and roads were very dry at this time of year.

"It wouldn't take much more than a spark to get it going," Mr Low said.

Coastal grasses and "scrubby areas" were also tinder dry, with the eastern parts of the region, such as Pukehina, Paengaroa and Otamarakau, most at risk.

The fire risk for the region remained in the "very high" range, and "extreme" for scrub lands.

Fire permits were still being issued, but selectively.

Firefighters battled scrub fires around Christchurch this week, in which four properties were destroyed and chicken farmer lost 18,000 birds. In Australia, bush fires have raged across New South Wales, as the country swelters in a heatwave that saw meteorologists add two new colours to temperature maps.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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