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Total ban . . . a fire ban is in force across North Canterbury. File photo

By RACHEL MACDONALD

A blanket fire ban has been imposed across North Canterbury as the high winds predicted to be riding the coat-tails of Cyclone Oma continue their journey south from Rarotonga.

Although Metservice models have shown a wide variety of potential paths for the storm over the last few days, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) is placing safety first, says North Canterbury’s principal rural fire officer, Bruce Janes.

“At one point, the forecasts had Oma coming straight through the Cook Strait, then it stalled off Brisbane. However if it plays out, we’re going to get lots of wind before the rain, and wind and fire don’t go well together.

“If we get the rain that’s supposed to be coming, the fire danger will drop right away, but only for a couple of days. All that fuel in the paddocks will still be there and it will dry out again fast.”

He says if the weather remains cool, with more rain, the ban may ease back to restricted status. However, there is a chance the ban may remain in place until the end of summer if the hot, dry conditions seen earlier this week continue.

“Who knows how it’s going to play out? Conditions at the moment are crazy super-dry, although luckily we’ve not had much wind.”

He also says people have been great when it comes to mowing, welding and other high fire-risk activities, resulting in few avoidable incidents requiring the fire services.

That’s not to say there haven’t been several accidental flare-ups as hay has been cut and baled around the region, and those living near some of
these call-outs might have noticed more appliances than usual in attendance.

“We’ve been running an initiative around some of the more built-up areas of North Canterbury this summer, which has seen us doubling down on our response to structure or vegetation fires.”

For example, a grass fire in Summerhill, Cust, last week saw the Pines Kairaki
volunteers on the scene.

“These call-outs see the rural and urban services talking to each other before the trucks go out. The aim is to deliver the best fire control, but also to make sure we’re not wasting volunteers’ time – the alarms are automated, but there’s no point two stations responding to an incident if its drizzling, for instance.

“It’s part of a constant experiment to see how we can improve what we do. Are our responses sensible? Are they too hard on volunteers? Can we think differently about things?”

If this summer’s trial proves to be successful in delivering better results in
North Canterbury, it will be rolled out across small towns in other hot, dry regions, such as Otago and the Hawkes Bay, during next year’s restricted
fire season, he says.