Total fire ban declared in Waitaki

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Prolonged dry conditions in North Otago have resulted in a total fire ban being declared.
The ban, put in place by the Waitaki District Council, took effect on Saturday.
North Otago has been plagued by dry conditions for several months. Last February, Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy declared dry conditions on the South Island’s east coast a “medium-scale adverse event”.
Eleven months later, drought conditions show no sign of letting up and the event declared by Mr Guy is still in place. Waitaki District Council emergency management manager Jane Lodge said the ban meant all Waitaki district urban fire permits had been revoked and no urban fire permits would be issued until further notice.
“There is a high risk of fires escaping due to a combination of dry conditions and significant fuel. There is also a high risk of accidental ignition such as stone strike or hot engines causing a fire.
“We urge the public to take care when operating equipment such as mowers, grinders and chainsaws and to operate machinery in the cooler parts of the day.”The ban was in place until further notice and exactly when it would be lifted was dependent on several factors, Mrs Lodge said.
“It’s very dependent on the weather. It’s not only the rain, but the vegetation as well _ the fuel that’s there.”She said the council worked closely with the Otago Rural Fire Authority and the New Zealand Fire Service when it came to monitoring conditions and decision-making processes around any fire bans in place.
Under the council’s Urban Fire Prevention Bylaw, any person found to be in breach of the ban can be prosecuted, and a fine of up to $20,000 can be imposed.
“We can prosecute if we really want to but basically it’s making sure people are aware they can’t have a fire,” Mrs Lodge said.
“If anyone sees one, call 111 immediately so it can be extinguished.”She did not want to see large fires _ such as a blaze that burnt through 72ha of vegetation on an island in the Waitaki River last weekend _ anywhere in the district.
The fire, which broke out on Saturday afternoon, had been contained by late Sunday afternoon.om15riverfire