Western Bay fire risk at three-year high

By Amy McGillivray -
Photo / File
Photo / File

Western Bay firefighters are on high alert with the region's fire risk at a three-year high.

The January fire risk for the Western Bay entered the extreme fire risk range half way through the month.

Western Bay Moana principal rural fire officer Barry Low said the fire risk dropped slightly at the beginning of February but was climbing rapidly and, with no rain forecast, it was likely to hit the extreme level again.

The fire risk is based on a daily build-up index figure which reflects fuel availability taking weather conditions into account.

Mr Low and the Tauranga City Council this week took further action to prevent fires by announcing a total fire ban throughout the Western Bay effective from 6am on Friday.

"Any permits that we have out there are now revoked. We will only issue permits from now on for emergency purposes such as disposing of diseased stock," Mr Low said.

The issue of fire permits was suspended briefly in December and again at the end of January.

The increased danger was reflected in the number of permits issued so far this fire season. About 3000 permits were issued each season but only 2230 had been issued as of the end of January, Mr Low said.

He was pleased to note there had been relatively few fires so far this year and credited it to people heeding the warnings.

"I think people are recognising the threat that is there and acting accordingly," he said. "If we do have a fire it will be a good one."

Mr Low said there was no rain predicted in the next 10 days and he suspected the dry spell would last well beyond that: "We're going to need a lot of rain to make a difference. About 100ml in about three to four days to really soak things down again."

Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provincial president John Scrimgeour said the dry weather was taking its toll on farmers.

"It's pretty bad. It's deteriorating week by week. Particularly since Labour weekend rainfalls have been pretty low," he said. "The rainfall we've had is probably about one-third of the moisture losses to the atmosphere. We've probably had 170ml-180ml of rain over that period which is well below the evaporation rate."

Farmers could stand those conditions for a few weeks but it was becoming harder to manage, he said.

Almost all farmers were having to feed out supplementary feed and they would soon have to start digging into winter supplies, he said. The other option was to buy feed but as the dry weather was so widespread it was becoming expensive.

Mr Scrimgeour said the dry weather was also causing milk production to decline and with no end in sight it was an anxious time for farmers.

"I wouldn't say it's dire yet but if it continues for a few more weeks it will certainly become so."

Niwa records show only 4mm of rain fell in Tauranga in January 5 per cent of the usual rainfall and the second driest January since records began in 1898.

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