Dry weather and growth causing fire concerns

Firefighters fight fires in the Prebbleton area of Canterbury near Christchurch.

Long grass in the Selwyn district is causing concern for firefighters as temperatures continue to swelter.

Considerable rainfall in October was followed by the driest November on record creating excellent growing conditions for grass and other material in the Selwyn and Christchurch districts.

Rural principal fire officer for Selwyn and Christchurch Darrin Woods said the anticipated return of nor’west winds during December coupled with the increased amounts of fuel, such as long grass, is concerning.

“These conditions, combined with increasingly-cured grasses, are a concern for Fire and Emergency New Zealand in terms of the potential of fires starting and causing damage,” he said.

In February, a devastating fire which started in the Selwyn District, combined with one that started in the Port Hills burnt more than 2000ha, destroyed 11 buildings and claimed the life of pilot Steve Askin.

Last Wednesday a burning rubbish pile caused an 800 sq m fire on Jarvis Rd, Motukarara.

Lincoln Volunteer Fire Brigade deputy chief fire officer Roger McLenaghen said it was a difficult fire to put out because it was burning into the pine trees and the grass was very dry.

He said brigades were concerned about the risk of fires with the hot, dry weather forecast for the summer.

“There has been a lot of fuel built-up. We have had good spring conditions . . . people need to be careful,” he said.

Mr Woods said fire restrictions could be imposed as soon as this week.

“FENZ is monitoring conditions, and as they trend towards predetermined triggers we are preparing to impose restrictions on the use of outdoor burning,” he said.

Only 1.4mm of rain was recorded at Christchurch Airport in November the lowest recorded since the city’s first weather station was set up in 1864.

It was a stark contrast after the winter downpours, where Christchurch exceeded its long-term rainfall average by the end of August.

The MetService is predicting a high of 30 deg C today, 22 for Wednesday, 23 on Thursday and 31 on Friday.

District council asset engineer transportation manager Mark Chamberlain said the council does not maintain grass on the roadsides except at intersections to keep sight distance for drivers and outside council-owned properties such as reserves, cemeteries and quarries.

Property owners were responsible for grass on the roadside, he said.

“The majority of property owners do maintain the roadsides to a good standard,” he said.

If the landowner does not cut their lawn or berm, the district council will engage a contractor to remove the fire risk and the owner of the land will then be invoiced, he said.

“If the invoice goes unpaid, it is set as a charge to the land on their title, meaning it will appear on the LIM as an outstanding payment. We want people to know that it’s extremely important to keep lawns and berms short to reduce the fire risk throughout summer,” he said.