Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Canterbury Army base to resume live firing

Fire at the New Zealand Army's West Melton Rifle Range. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Fire at the New Zealand Army's West Melton Rifle Range. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Live firing at a Canterbury Army base where a large fire broke out on tinder-box dry land last week is set to resume tomorrow, the Defence Force has confirmed.

The Army says they won't be using live hand grenades after an explosion sparked the blaze which took 60 firefighters and six helicopters with monsoon buckets to bring under control.

Soldiers had been doing live firing training, using hand grenades and small arms, when the fire quickly took hold at the Burnham Military Training Area at West Melton, outside Christchurch, last Wednesday.

Live firing was suspended while the fire was investigated.

But with the probe ongoing, the Defence Force has written to local West Melton residents to advise them that live firing will resume tomorrow.

The Army says it will monitor weather conditions closely and will not be using grenades or any other high explosives at the range until fire conditions have "significantly reduced''.

"The safety of our neighbours as well as our own personnel is vitally important to us,'' the letter says.

"The decision not to resume grenade training at this time but recommence ordinary rifle training is a balanced response.

"This will allow NZ Army soldiers to continue to train and prepare for their operational commitments.''

Five houses near West Melton Airport were evacuated and nearby property owners were told to prepare to leave after the fire broke out around noon.

It made its way onto a neighbouring pig farm and 50 hectares were affected.

Incident controller Sergeant Greg Fagg said they had taken measures to prevent a fire from starting, but the blaze had done "exactly what it shouldn't have done''.


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