Firefighters warn Mackenzie Basin fire a reminder of danger residents can cause

Firefighters are warning that fires can spread quickly with hotter weather conditions.
Firefighters are warning that fires can spread quickly with hotter weather conditions. Photo credit: Getty Images

Story by RNZ

A senior fire officer is urging Mackenzie Basin residents not to be complacent about wildfires after a lucky near miss and more volatile conditions ahead.

On Sunday, a fire covered roughly a kilometre near Lake Ōhau before firefighters from five brigades and two helicopters brought it under control.

The fire started on a residential property Manuka Terrace, with an easterly wind spreading it over grassland towards homes.

Fire and Emergency Mid-South Canterbury district manager Rob Hands said if the wind had been blowing from a different direction, it could have reached nearby wilding pines and about 80 properties, and taken a week or more to put out.

"If we had a norwester, I think that we'd be looking at something similar to the Ōhau village fire where we would have lost property," Hands said.

In 2020, roughly half the homes in the Lake Ōhau village were destroyed or damaged by a wildfire.

Hands said Sunday's fire served as a warning about how quickly fire could spread and threaten houses, especially with more hot, dry and windy weather forecast this week.

That meant the fire risk would continue to increase as more fuel dried out.

"Any spark at all will start a fire and the difficulty to control will be based on how much wind is associated with any event," he said.

"I looked at the forecast yesterday and it looks like we've got regular with 20 plus degrees. But also low relative humidity, which again means no moisture in the air, ease of ignition. Our fires will spread quickly and we need to be on top of them quickly."

A complete fire ban is in place for the Mackenzie Basin which includes no fireworks.

He urged people to go online to to find out what can and cannot be done in their area.

Fire and Emergency will host a wildfire information session in the Twizel Events Centre on Wednesday from 6.30pm.

"Each individual needs to take responsibility for what their caretaking is around their section, and as a rule of thumb - mow your lawns, prune your trees, separate them out so your break the continuity of fuel."

He urged people who had a holiday home in the area to make sure they were aware of the fire conditions and any bans, and to pop along to the information session if they were in the area.