Images of last year’s fires loom large in the fire services mind this time of year. Photo: Evan Barnes.

Fire crews on alert as risk increases

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Grass in the region is starting to dry out which has increased the risk of ignition and the capacity for a fire to spread rapidly, the fire service says.

While Australia battles horrific bush fires across the Tasman, local crews are mindful of this time of the year closer to home.

Last February, a spark from farm machinery caused a blaze that affected 2300ha of lands, destroyed one home and forced the evacuation of about 3000 people and 700 livestock and pets.

Following that outbreak, fires broke out at Rabbit Island, Atawhai, Moutere Hill and Dovedale Hill, costing Fire and Emergency NZ about $13 million in total.

With that in mind, principal rural fire officer Ian Reade is urging locals to take extra care.

“As the fire risk climbs and you are working or playing in the outdoors, take note of your surroundings.”

He says grass is starting to dry out and has reached the point where in parts of the district at least 50 per cent is dead or dried out.

“At the 50 per cent level a fire will carry through the grass on a warm, dry day,” Ian says.

“As the grass continues to dry, the risk of ignition from sparks or hot surfaces such as exhaust pipes increases.”

In early January the fire danger is moderate on cooler calm days and high on windy days. Already this year fire crews have battled blazes in rural parts of the region.

On January 2, a mystery fire in Kahurangi National Park took seven hours for firefighters to extinguish due to the difficult terrain they were in.

Ian says if you are on or in dry vegetation there are some things you can do to minimize your risk.

“If it’s hot and dry and you are doing spark-hazardous work where anything metal may hit metal or stone, hot exhausts in long grass, electric fences through dry vegetation, try and do it in the morning when there is dew on the ground or late in the evening.”

He says the riskiest time for an ignition is 11am through to 7pm when temperature is high and humidity is low.

Fire and Emergency NZ Nelson Tasman sends out a daily email to anyone who may be working or playing in or on vegetation.

It describes the risk for each day and what measures you could take to reduce your risk and be ready for any fires that may occur.

If you would like to be included in this daily broadcast please email Firepermit.Nelsontasman@ fireandemergency.nz

Nelson Tasman is in a restricted season, meaning nearly all fires in the open air require a permit.

To check out if you need a permit, and to apply for one, see here.

If no rain arrives over the next few weeks it is likely that all current fire permits will be suspended with a Prohibited Season (Total Fire Ban) being declared if fire risk continues to climb.

Weather for the next few days is sunny with temperatures of around 20C, apart from Sunday which has rain forecast.