Pukaki fire doubles in size overnight

Pukaki fire doubles in size overnight

17 January 2008

published by www.stuff.co.nz

New Zealand — Hundreds of young deer have died and 150 hectares of land have been ravaged in a major bush fire north of Lake Pukaki which has gained in strength overnight.

Ten helicopters are battling the fire along with one fixed-wing aircraft, four fire engines and 40 firefighters.

The blaze is being fanned by a northwesterly wind.

BIG JOB: the scene of yesterday’s fire, near Mount White. Photo: David Alexander/The PressThe blaze spread through pine forests at the Mount Cook Station and firefighters are now trying to cut it off before it reaches Braemar Station.

“We have 60 personnel working and the fire covers about 200 hectares,” South Canterbury rural fire officer Rob Hands said.

“We’re battling with northwest wind conditions,” he said.

The wind was making it difficult to fight the fire but fire fighters were making headway and were hopeful the fire could be stopped at a creek before reaching Braemar Station, he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown but the fire service would be talking to some people who had been working in the area.

The fire was currently about 6km away from Braemar Station.

Hamish McKenzie, of the neighbouring Braemar Station, warned last night the small crew of firefighters waiting overnight would be “pretty bloody helpless” if the wind strength grew.

The fire was burning mainly on an area of the station leased from owner Donald Burnett for hunting expeditions, he said.

Neville Cunningham’s Mount Cook Trophy Hunting operation was understood to have been affected by the fire.

McKenzie estimated 300 hinds had died in the fire.

He said Burnett “seemed pretty relaxed for what I thought was going on”.

McKenzie and wife Julia were set for a sleepless night.

They had moved stock out of immediate danger but were unsure what might happen if the wind got up.

“It’s still burning bloody rapidly, like it’s being fuelled by wind and hot weather. And it’s still in the thickest part of the forest.”

“The fire’s still probably two to three kilometres away from us but, in a wind like this, it won’t take them long to get to us.”

Earlier, railway workers’ sparks caused a large fire near Mount White, south of Arthurs Pass.

On Track confirmed yesterday’s fire, which was largely under control last night, was caused by sparks from welders working on tracks.

Spokesman Kevin Ramshaw said the welders “were aware of the dryness of the land and made specific provisions to capture sparks.

“But sparks can sometimes fly further than you expect and this was one that did.”

On Track regretted the incident, but had done “its absolute best” to contain the fire.

Wilderness Lodge owner Gerry McSweeney, who co-owns Coralyn Station, which lost 70ha to 100ha in the fire, was surprised by On Track’s actions.

“It does seem most unfortunate that they were cutting rails right next to dry vegetation at a time of a total fire ban when there was a northerly wind blowing.”

About 700 ewes had been due to graze on the lost block, he said.

“There’s an immediate financial cost.

“We’ve still got to assess, but the whole area can’t be used because there are no fences — they’ve all been burned,” McSweeney said.

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