Dry conditions spread grass fire across 20ha, threatening properties and cutting power

By Victoria White -
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Tinder dry conditions are thought to have contributed to two large grass fires which ravaged rural areas of Hawke's Bay yesterday.

The fires in rural Napier and Central Hawke's Bay were the latest in a spate of similar incidents as an extended dry heat wave continues to surge across the region.

Just after midday fire services were called to the first fire, a "sizeable" blaze in rural Puketapu, which spread across 20ha, threatened three properties, and left local residents without power.

Services from Napier, Hastings and Taradale were joined by additional crews from Rissington and Puketitri throughout the afternoon. At one point, seven fire engines, four water tankers, and a helicopter were working to control the blaze.

Yesterday a Fire Service spokeswoman said the fire spread from covering 5ha to 20ha by the time it was contained.

Napier senior station officer Jamie Nichol said the dry conditions of the area, and yesterday's wind meant the fire spread relatively quickly.

Although it had threatened to engulf three properties, he said there had been no damage to any of them.

A Rissington resident - whose property was not affected by the fire - said it was believed
the occupants of the affected properties, and their pets, were all safe.

The fire also "burned through" several power poles in the area. Unison power lines company relationship manager Danny Gough said a section of the network was turned off for safety reasons, leaving 72 customers without power during the afternoon.

Fire services left the scene at 8:30pm last night but the rural fire service are going back out to check on the affected area this morning.

Just before 2pm yesterday Fire Services were called to another grass fire in Central Hawke's Bay.

A Fire Service spokeswoman said the fire had covered 5ha, but was contained within a couple of hours. Services remained at the scene until the early evening.

Although the causes of both fires were unknown at this stage, dry conditions were thought to have contributed to their spread - there has been little rainfall in the past month, with temperatures soaring into the 30Cs.

By the time of the fire yesterday, MetService meteorologist Tom Adams said Napier was sitting at 28.5C, with temperatures expected to reach 30C.

Dry conditions were also thought to have contributed to another fire in Puketapu on January 22, when crews battled a 300m by 500m grass fire, fanned by strong winds, and are behind the total fire ban throughout Hawke's Bay.

A Weather Watch spokesman said the East Coast was having "drier than average conditions", with little rain, and conditions were not expected to change soon.

Longer-range but less reliable models showed the potential for rain for some eastern areas in about two weeks, but he said confidence was minimal at this stage.

"For now the east of the North Island and Northland are in an extended dry heatwave with highs in to the low to mid 30s at times."

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