Hot, dry, and windy El Niño weather conditions are increasing the risk of scrub and bush fires this summer and Rotorua residents are being asked to take special care.
Rotorua Lakes Council's Rural Fire Zone manager Richard Horn said Rotorua district's current restricted fire season would remain in place until at least April next year.
"This means fires can't be lit in any rural areas - including incinerator fires, barbecues and hangi - unless a permit has been granted by the council. The only exceptions are domestic gas fired barbecues."
"And if conditions worsen there is the likelihood that we may need to stop issuing permits altogether for a period of time, and cancel all existing permits as well," he said.
The fire service had already fought some difficult scrub fires this season which put people's safety and property at risk with the potential for more serious consequences if they'd got out of hand.
This year it seems likely we'll be experiencing the sort of 'super El Niño' conditions we last saw in the 1997/98 summer season when we were responding to callouts on almost a daily basis
Mr Horn said that while the fire permit restrictions did not apply to urban areas, people in residential and commercial locations needed to take extra care with barbecues, rubbish fires and cigarette butts, and to ensure children did not have access to matches and lighters.
"Please be careful and responsible. Uncontrolled burning of rubbish in the urban environment can cause severe smoke pollution and impact on residents and traffic, as well as putting people's lives and property at serious risk," he said.
Rural fire permits can be applied for at Rotorua Lakes Council's customer centre or online at the council website rotorulakescouncil.nz. At least one week's advance notice is required to process applications.
Meanwhile in the lead-up to what is expected to be a busy season for scrub and bush fires, the council's rural fire fighters will be in Linton Park on tomorrow to simulate the sort of conditions where scrub and bush fires can break out.
Waste gum tree timber has recently been removed from the park by residents for use as household winter firewood. The remaining fine material has been identified as similar to what can be found in areas where scrub fires are likely and therefore suitable for a training exercise.
Rotorua Lakes Council Sport and Recreation manager Rob Pitkethley said rural firefighters and fire trucks would be on site in Linton Park on Saturday.
"They'll be carrying out simulated firefighting activities for a large fire area with crews from all over the district, undertaking pump training and using helicopters equipped with fire suppression apparatus."