Fire risks in Hawke's Bay have soared, prompting new warnings from rural authorities as a scorched landscape is fanned by strong northwest and westerly winds.
With temperatures set to soar into the 30s over the next two days, fire risk indicators have been raised to extreme, says Hastings District council rural fire officer Trevor Mitchell.
Special precautions need to be taken to limit the chances of accidental fire, including mowing lawns early in the mornings or in the evenings.
"Mowing in the heat of the day increases the risk of sparks which could ignite the very dry undergrowth," he said yesterday.
"Any other activities which have the potential to cause a spark should be delayed or carried out when the temperature is cooler.
"Strong winds are forecast over the next few days and that has the potential to spread fires very quickly, endangering lives and property and making them very challenging to control."
Most of Hawke's Bay remains under a "total" fire ban which means no outdoor fires may be lit.
In a monthly climate summary released yesterday, the Niwa National Climate Centre said rainfall in Hawke's Bay last month was less than 50 per cent of the "normal" December precipitation.
Mean temperatures in the Bay for December were near the highest since relevant record-keeping started. Hastings posted the highest mean temperature of any city or town at 19.8C, its second-highest since 1965, and Waipawa at 18.4C had its highest mean temperature in at least 67 years.
The maximum Boxing Day temperature in Dannevirke of 29.4C was the town's third-highest maximum December temperature in at least 62 years.
Meanwhile, Wairoa had one of its lowest December rainfalls, 18mm representing just a quarter of the average figure for the month in the area.
The strongest wind gust in the country was 206km/h on December 2 at Cape Turnagain on the Hawke's Bay southern boundary.