Fire chiefs angry at renewed firing

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Defence Force says army's own experts have given all clear but no explosives will be used.

Fire officials say it's stupid to resume firing at West Melton with the fire risk still high. Photo / APN
Fire officials say it's stupid to resume firing at West Melton with the fire risk still high. Photo / APN

Fire chiefs are angry the army will start live firing again today at the scene of last week's big blaze at West Melton in Canterbury.

The first fire bosses knew of it was when they read it on news websites yesterday, they said.

Lincoln Volunteer fire chief officer Kevin Greene said, "It's mindblowing. They are a bit stupid really, continuing with the live firing. I understand they have got to train, but there's a fine balance. Fire risk is still high."

There is a total fire ban in the Selwyn District. The principal rural fire officer there, Wilson Brown, said the army did not tell him about live firing resumption.

"There was no consultation. They don't have to ask and they didn't ask."

The Defence Force sent a letter to residents living near the West Melton rifle range saying it had been cleared for live rifle firing.

Sixty firefighters and six helicopters with monsoon buckets were needed to bring a huge blaze under control last Wednesday after it was started by a hand grenade during live training.

The Defence Force is expected to be billed for the estimated $200,000 cost of the fire. Hand grenades will not be used during today's live firing exercise, the army said.

A Defence Force spokeswoman said the army's own fire service had cleared the rifle range for today's live firing, which they were legally able to do on their property.

West Melton Residents Association chairman Bruce Russell said residents were still very concerned with what happened last week.

"I can't see a problem with them continuing their live firing but there will be serious repercussions if they start using grenades and start another fire. We don't have any control over the range. The fire risk remains high out here. It's the driest the area's been for several years."

But West Melton resident Kenna Bassett-Smith, who lives near the rifle range, said: "That really is shocking. I am really surprised they are going to resume because there has been no rain at all. They need to wait until we have a have some rain. If they start again ... I will definitely be complaining."

But Weedons Ross Rd resident Suzanne Inkson, who was evacuated last week, said she was okay with live firing resuming as long as the army re-evaluated it each day according to the weather.

In its letter to residents, 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". APN

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