Strong winds fuel the flames

    A property in Bluff was gutted by a fire last Thursday morning. Photo: Luisa Girao
    Queens Dr in Invercargill was blocked off on Tuesday morning following a significant house fire. Photo: Abbey Palmer

    FROM vegetation fires to a gutted house, Southland firefighters have spent the past week under the pump following 14 blaze-related callouts.

    Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) Southland assistant area commander Deane Chalmers said the list of fires had caused an “awful lot” of resources to be drained, especially at the weekend in rural areas.

    The weather had a lot to do with the severity of the fires, as winds reached more than 100kmh in some areas throughout the region.

    “The wind forecast was predicted, there was messaging going out there through rural networks for farmers to be aware that burn-offs can re-light and cause an awful lot of damage.

    “But there’s just nothing you can do when the wind is that feral.”

    The latest fire, as of Tuesday, happened when a church fence caught fire near Centre and Pomona Sts in Invercargill about 12.30pm.

    A Fenz spokesman confirmed the small backyard fire was out on arrival and no action was taken by crews.

    Just an hour or so earlier, a house in Queens Dr in Invercargill was spotted with smoke and flames billowing from its roof.

    Southern communications shift manager Andrew Norris said three appliances were sent to the scene near the corner of Duke St about 11am to find the property “heavily involved” in flames.

    Within about an hour, the blaze was under control.

    However, there was extensive damage to parts of the property.

    Nobody was home at the time it caught alight and no injuries were reported.

    It was not yet clear what had caused the fire.

    On Monday, crews attended a small tussock bush fire in Taiepa Dune Reserve, Otatara, about 4.30pm, which was put out by firefighters using buckets of water and shovels.

    It was eventually deemed suspicious.

    About two hours prior, crews from Lumsden responded to a 20-by-5m vegetation fire after a tyre came off a car and sparks ignited nearby greenery.

    In Kennington, excavators spent the morning pulling apart a large pile of woodchips which caught fire about 9.30am.

    It took about an hour-and-a-half for firefighters to bring the flames under control and dampen hot spots before the business owners took over.

    Sunday saw three separate fires fanned by strong winds.

    Two were in the Waimea Valley, about 5km from each other, while the other was in Dacre.

    Fenz on-call region five commander Keith McIntosh said the regional co-ordination centre had been activated to monitor the situation in Southland.

    However, resources were stretched due to the large number of call-outs and at one point, 37 appliances and tankers were out in the field throughout Otago and Southland.

    Mr Chalmers said the first fire in the Waimea Valley was reported as being in a hedge about 8am which had been caused by powerlines arching.

    Nearly six hours later, the site was being dampened down and crews had been redeployed to the second fire along the same stretch of road.

    It had started in a pile of forestry slash and was moving uphill towards a small forestry plantation.

    With winds gusting up to 100kmh in the area, it was not possible to use helicopters.

    The fire near Dacre was reported just after 1pm and had burned a hedge and hay bales.

    Friday called for more resources after a small power box caught fire near a boundary line, however, it was promptly extinguished.

    The onslaught of call-outs started on Thursday, when crews were sent to a bonfire which caused concern in Riverton about 6pm.

    There was no doubt, firefighters had been pushed to their limits during the past week.

    However, the message remained the same working smoke alarms, plan for windy weather and call 111 in the event of a fire.