Story Published in Wairarapa Times Age
By Gerald Ford
A helicopter dampens a grass fire that threatened baches at the mouth of the Whareama River on Saturday, one of a record number of rural fire callouts this year. – Photo supplied by Amalgamated Helicopters. Mowed and watered lawns saved holiday baches at the mouth of the Whareama River from a runaway grass fire at the weekend on the eve of a total fire ban for the region. Wairarapa principal rural fire officer Phill Wishnowsky said the cause of the fire on Saturday was unknown and that the baches were unoccupied when the blaze broke out.
Jason Diedrichs, Amalgamated Helicopters owner and pilot, said he spent several hours dumping water from a monsoon bucket on areas left scorched by the blaze. We were mainly required to dampen down places where firefighters had already put the fire out. The fire certainly got close to the baches but it was fortunate the lawns were tended and the flames stopped there.” Mr Wishnowsky said a total rural fire ban is in force in Wairarapa from today after dry weather and wind have created a record rural fire season with two-and-a-half times the callouts of two years ago. The ban prohibits any open-air fires in rural Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa .Rural fire callouts increased by 68 percent in the year to April 30, 2007, and are on track to increase another 58 percent or more than 500 callouts, according to statistics from the Wairarapa rural fire district.
“Already in 2008 we have had a record number of rural fire incidents and it looks like this will continue for some time yet,” Mr Wishnowsky said.
He said dry weather especially in the past 24 months was one factor in the increase, but there was also more public awareness in reporting fires and more involvement in non-fire events, like car crashes and medical emergencies.
More power-line related fires were also a factor, especially in Wairarapa.
“Every time the wind starts to blow, we cringe.”
Mr Wishnowsky said firefighters have been doing a “fantastic job”, with wind making things “even more difficult and dangerous”. He said rural fire crews were always looking for volunteers, and noted that many of the existing volunteers lived rurally but work away from their home area during the day. Rural people can do their part to lower fire risk by keeping roadside grass short, clearing long grass and dry plants away from buildings, and keeping roads and driveways clear for fire engines. Rural properties should also be clearly numbered and identified.