Drought conditions and fire: Which regions have reason for concern

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It was a hard summer for many last year, with widespread drought crippling some regions.

Paddocks dry from the Northland drought.
Kaikohe area

Dry paddocks in Northland last summer. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Fire bans and water restrictions were in place throughout the country, and with February coming up, there are worries that could happen again.

Northland principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor is already on high alert amid a region-wide fire ban.

“At the moment things are still quite dry, not as bad as they were last year,” Taylor said.

“We have had some rain events coming through periodically and that has kind of kept a bit of a control over the fire danger. But we are still very dry up here and we are experiencing a lot of wind at the moment which is drying out any rain that we do get very quickly.”

Not far from Taylor’s mind were the events of last summer, when Northland was crippled by a severe drought.

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Grass on the East Coast was becoming tinder dry once again and that – paired with the wind – would make any fire move very rapidly, he said.

Despite that, some Northlanders were continuing to light sneaky backyard fires after rain downpours.

“We have been having people getting caught out. We had a large fire only yesterday where six helicopters had to attend.”

Further south in Auckland, things were looking greener and Watercare’s Mark Bourne praised the city’s water conservation efforts.

Aucklanders had heeded the message to save water and things were progressing well, he said.

Federated Farmers national president and Manawatū farmer Andrew Hoggard said rain was continuing to fend off last year’s dryness.

“Right now, the entire farm is green, I’ve got lots of grass, I’ve made more hay and silage than I’ve done on this place in 22 years of farming here,” Hoggard said.

“So things are looking pretty solid for, you know, a good second half of the season.”

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Central Otago was looking dry in December and early January but yesterday its total fire ban was downgraded to a restricted season.

Principal rural fire officer Mark Mawhinney said that was no reason to get complacent.

“There are forecasters saying we’re going to get dry and look it doesn’t take very long, especially in Central,” Mawhinney said.

“Once the sun comes out things really burn off quickly. Poor soils, free flowing soils, the rain runs through and things can go backwards very quickly.”

People should visit the Fire and Emergency website to see what local restrictions were in place, he said.

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