El Nino worsens regional fire risk

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EXTREME: This summer will be a bad one for firefighters.
EXTREME: This summer will be a bad one for firefighters.

The worst rural fire risk in nearly two decades is likely this summer for Wairarapa, say firefighters.

The Wairarapa district, particularly the East Coast, potentially faces the worst rural fire risk in 18 years as the El Nino weather system develops, says Wairarapa principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky.

To date, Wairarapa Rural Fire District (WRFD) has had twice as many notifications of incidents across the district compared to the same period last year, he said.

"We have experienced a number of fires throughout August and with the predicted El Nino conditions we can certainly expect a higher than average fire season," said Mr Wishnowsky.

"The key message to our rural communities [is] to take advantage of the cooler months we're currently experiencing and prepare the property and themselves for the coming summer."

International records indicate El Nino is certain (100 per cent chance) to continue over September to November and extremely likely (above 90 per cent chance) to persist into summer 2015-16.

The current state of the ocean atmosphere in the Pacific and the international consensus forecast suggest that this event could rank among the fourth strongest El Nino events recorded (along with 1972-73, 1982-83 and 1997-98).

Mr Wishnowsky believed the likely fire risk this summer would be as high as the 1997-98 summer.

"Based on history with El Nino weather, we need to be prepared as a district for what may well come with that drier weather," he said.

"I am sure the farming community is well aware of the situation."

Fire restrictions are likely to be earlier than usual this year due to the expected drier conditions, with a potential total fire ban over Christmas.

WRFD are already taking steps to ensure that all our firefighting and fire reduction processes are prepared well in advance of summer and encourage forestry companies and rural communities to make preparations now.

Mr Wishnowsky said those who lit fires were responsible for them - as well as the costs of suppression if it got out of control.

For advice about lighting fires, fire permits or fire seasons, contact the WRFD staff - contact details can be found on their website, www.wrfd.org.nz.

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