Fire ban blankets Northland amid big dry

By Lindy Laird

A total fire ban now lies across the whole of Northland because of the danger to life and property posed by a 60-year record-breaking big dry.

The move follows continued concerns about fire break-outs across the region and a spate of serious blazes covering large areas in the past month at Pouto Peninsula, Waipoua Forest and Horeke.

There have been dozens of smaller vegetation fires across Northland in recent weeks.

Near Northland's border, there have also been major fires at Tapora and Matakana.

The authorities are warning that anyone found lighting a fire faces prosecution, and in cases where a fire became serious could be liable for costs up to millions of dollars.

Kaipara and Whangarei District Councils have imposed prohibited fire seasons until further notice. The Far North has had a ban in place since January, and Department of Conservation declared a ban in late February for all areas in the public estate.

Northland is in the grip of the driest spell in more than 60 years, with record low rainfall, low ground moisture and higher than average temperatures. Northland is the worst affected region in New Zealand in the drought that is affecting much of the country, and weather forecasters as well as firefighters expect little short-term relief.

Falls of significantly heavy rain will be needed before the region is out of danger, Department of Conservation Rural Fire Officer Glen Coulston said.

"A few showers are not enough. It will take a lot of rain before the prohibited fire season can be rescinded and for fire permit issue to recommence," Mr Coulston said.

"Fires can cost millions of dollars to put out. If you are found responsible for causing an unauthorised fire you could be held personally liable for the costs incurred."

Anyone lighting an open fire anywhere, whether on private or public property, will be liable for prosecution, Northland deputy principal Rural Fire Officer Trevor Bullock said.

- Northern Advocate

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