Chopper on daily forest fire alert

By Cherie Taylor of The Daily Post -

A decision on whether Rotorua is to be declared a drought zone is expected tomorrow or Thursday.

A spokesman from Agriculture Minister Nathan Guy's office said the minister was expected to make an announcement about whether to extend the drought zone from the Waikato to include the Hawkes Bay and possibly Rotorua.

Rotorua/Taupo Federated Farmers president Neil Heather told The Daily Post farmers were in a desperate situation and needed the Government to declare a medium drought in the region.

Many were culling stock with some sheep and beef farmers unable to get their stock culled at the meat works because of demand. Many were looking at having to re-grass their entire farms because of the damage caused by the long hot dry period, Mr Heather said.

"The grass isn't just drying off - it's dying. Something needs to be done."

He has sent his stock to Gisborne for grazing and is feeding out his winter supplies and ordering in maize to keep what stock he is keeping going.

This will cut into profits considerably, he said.

Meanwhile, Rotorua's worsening dry conditions has forced a local forest management company to put a helicopter and pilot on standby in case another bush fire breaks out.

More than a milk tanker and trailer load of water was dropped from the air to help douse a fire at Waiotapu on Friday.

Heli Resources helicopter pilot Jim Shewan dropped more than 70 monsoon buckets of water on the blaze which covered about 1ha of bush at Waiotapu, about 30kms south of Rotorua. Each monsoon carries about 400 litres of water.

Mr Shewan, who has been a pilot for about 40 years, said the fire, which forced the evacuation of about 25 people from the nearby thermal wonderland, didn't cover a large area of land but required a bit of work on the ground and in the air to put out.

He dropped about 28,000 litres of water from nearby Echo Lake onto the smouldering blaze.

"It was quite contained but hard to get under control ... it was very hot and there were a lot of dry logs and deep moss on the ground. There was a lot there to burn that wasn't first apparent," he said.

Already this year he has been called four times to deal with fire.

Given the current dry conditions, he and his chopper are on standby daily at Timberlands Fire Station at Rainbow Mountain in case another blaze breaks out in the forest.

"She's pretty dry and hot out there at the moment," he said.

Timberlands staff are also on high alert with lookout towers manned in daylight hours and fire crews on standby.

Timberlands fire and security manager Evan Rarere said the forest was tinder dry at present and they had already dealt with five fires this summer - three in Kaingaroa Forest.

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