Gales blast Wairarapa

By Nathan Crombie

Gales of more than 100km/h have sent campers packing and blown in windows, loosened roofs and torn branches from trees in South Wairarapa.

Featherston fire chief Colin McKenna said volunteer crews from the station were called to nine wind-related calls in and around the town on New Year's Day.

High winds continued yesterday, with a severe weather warning still in place for high winds in Wairarapa south of Masterton.

Station officer Lee McKenna said the first call came about 8.45am on New Year's Day after winds blew in a window in a Wakefield St home in Featherston. About 10 minutes later a crew was sent to secure the roof of the Featherston Rugby Club and the roof of a toilet block at the opposite end of the Featherston Recreation Grounds.

Firefighters next righted a large sign that winds had toppled at Featherston Primary School just after 9am and about an hour later two large branches, one that was close to a metre in diameter, were ripped from a more than 60m-tall gum tree in Kereru Grove.

"The branches came down right across the road from one side to the other and blocked the cul-de-sac.

We cleared a path so people living down there could get in and out," Mr McKenna said.

Kereru Grove resident Peter Love said the gum tree was near the boundary fence of a property adjoining his home. He said a branch had landed across their driveway in high winds several months ago.

"There's more to fall, that's what worries me. It's got to go," Mr Love said, adding neighbours and members of his family cleared the street and salvaged two truckloads of wood from the site. Todd Black, owner of the property where the tree stands, said yesterday he intended to fell the gum.

Mr McKenna said that about an hour later, fire crews went to a Woodward St property, where a young boy feared gales were about to topple a power pole.

His fears were unfounded, Mr McKenna said, but firefighters noticed wind had shattered a large window on a nearby house and boarded up the damage.

"It was a bit of luck that we showed up and looked over the road and saw a window was blown in," Mr McKenna said.

A vegetation fire near the Tararua Forest Park on Bucks Rd about 11.30am could have been ignited by wind-blown embers from campfires that fire crews had doused near the site on New Year's Eve, he said.

Another window was blown in at a Harrison St home about 9pm.

Greytown Camp Ground manager Neil Smith said two groups had cut short their stays after their tents were damaged in high winds on New Year's Day.

A Lake Ferry Holiday Park spokeswoman said several campers there had quit their holidays early ahead of an expected weather change.

Frank Cornelissen, Martinborough Top Ten Holiday Park manager, said campers at that site had held their ground despite weather warnings.

MetService forecaster Peter Knudson said northwestly gusts at the Rimutaka Summit peaked on Tuesday at 122km/h about 9am. Similar speeds were recorded at the Ngawi weather station and a peak gust of 139km/h was posted at Castlepoint about midday.

He said the winds were part of a tight pressure gradient generated between an active trough moving up the South Island and a ridge passing over the north of the country.

Wind speeds had eased yesterday with a peak gust on the Rimutaka Summit of 109km/h, 124km/h at Ngawi and 109km/h at Castlepoint.

Mr Knudson said the wind was expected to ease further and turn to the southwest by this morning.


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