El Nino prompts fresh fire warning

By Nathan Crombie -
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BE ALERT: Martinborough fire chief Bill Butzbach has reinforced a call from Wairarapa principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky for people living in rural locations to be extra vigilant during the months ahead of heightened fire risk. PHOTO/FILE
BE ALERT: Martinborough fire chief Bill Butzbach has reinforced a call from Wairarapa principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky for people living in rural locations to be extra vigilant during the months ahead of heightened fire risk. PHOTO/FILE

A warning has been sounded about rural fire dangers on the heels of a blaze that ignited in high winds among a stand of trees near Martinborough on Sunday.

Martinborough fire chief Bill Butzbach said volunteer firefighters in the town had been scrambled to the blaze on a rural Puruatanga Rd property just after 6pm on Sunday.

He said there had been a burn-off at the property and despite the controlled fire being in its dying stages, winds had picked up and carried hot embers to a nearby stand of macrocarpas.

Two fire crews fought the blaze for over an hour, he said, which involved an area of about 20sq m of trees and vegetation.

"The property was a couple of kilometres out of town and we had to ferry water there, which is why it took a little longer to deal with."

The rural blaze broke out over an hour after volunteer Martinborough firefighters attended a controlled fire in a rubbish pit in the town.

Mr Butzbach said the rural fire precedes what is expected to be a hot summer during which fire risks could become extreme.

"We are first responders to rural fires in South Wairarapa and I would urge extreme vigilance this summer when considering activities like mowing or controlled burn-offs," he said.

He said training for Martinborough firefighters will have a focus on "programmes getting us ready for summer".

"People have to think carefully about what they do in weather conditions like extreme heat or high winds."

The warnings from Mr Butzbach reinforce similar alerts sounded last month by Wairarapa principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky.

Mr Wishnowsky told the Times-Age the Wairarapa district, particularly the east coast, potentially faces the worst rural fire risk in 18 years as the El Nino weather system develops.

Wairarapa Rural Fire District (WRFD) had to date responded to twice as many incidents in the region compared to 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 to continue through next month and extremely likely to persist into the summer months.

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

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