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ALEXIA.JOHNSTON
@alliedpress.co.nz

Central Otago residents are urged not to become complacent following heavy rainfall earlier this week as the risk of fire across the district remains high.

An estimated 12mm of rain fell overnight on Sunday, but was not enough to remove the risk of fire due to the high temperatures and wind that followed, principal rural fire officer Graeme Still, of Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz), said.

“Central dries out fairly quick.”

He said tasks such as mowing lawns should be done first thing in the morning or in the evening and people who had projects that involved welding or grinding should hold off.

Drying out: The soil moisture level in Central Otago is either near normal or slightly drier than average for this time of year, despite recent rainfall. 

“It only takes a spark,” he said, of how easily a fire could ignite in current dry conditions.

Those conditions were not likely to have improved by today, he said.

“Thursday is looking like not a good day, as in the fire danger is going to be quite high.”

Fenz has suspended all its fire permits across the district so no fires of any kind are permitted.

“But, if a fire was lit a couple of weeks ago, our advice is for people to go and check those.

“Even though we’ve had rain, there probably hasn’t been enough.”

 

Drying out . . . The soil moisture level in Central Otago is either near normal or slightly drier than average for this time of year, despite recent rainfall. IMAGE: NIWA

 

Mr Still said gas barbecues were still “fine” to use.

He believed people were sensible enough to follow all the rules and encouraged them to visit the website checkitsalright.nz to investigate exactly what they could and could not do.

A rural fire incident management team will be based in Clyde today, in case fire breaks out in Central Otago, a move prompted by predicted high winds.

Fires have been known to start in dry conditions as people innocently go about their day.

Deputy principal rural fire officer Mark Mawhinney, of Fenz, said a fire caused by a mower at Black Ridge vineyard last week was an example of that.

“Certainly, in places it’s dry enough for mowers and things like that to hit a stone and start a grass fire.

“We need to be mindful of people using tools, motorbikes in the back country [etc]. We are just starting to see some of that country dry out enough to have that concern.”

Mr Mawhinney said despite those very real risks, this year’s conditions were not yet as severe as last year.

“Combine the dry conditions with very warm temperatures and the drying soil moisture trend is expected to continue.” – Deputy principal rural fire officer Mark Mawhinney.

“One of the differences [is] it’s just a bit windier this year than last year and the wind is the scary thing. It’s the wind that drives our fires.

“Even though we got a little bit of rain last night, it will only take a day and a-half and the sun will strip it out of our soils,” he said, on Monday.

“We shouldn’t be fooled by the fact we’ve had that odd bit of rainfall this year.”

A National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) spokeswoman said dry conditions were likely to continue.

“High pressure continues to be in control over the next couple of days and little, if any, rain is in the forecast for Central Otago,” she said.

“Combine the dry conditions with very warm temperatures and the drying soil moisture trend is expected to continue.

“Even though soil moisture levels are near average in many areas, the average moisture levels for this time in Otago are relatively dry, which may pose a fire risk in the Central Otago region.”