THE fire risk in Gisborne East Coast and Wairoa has escalated, and the fire danger is extreme in some areas as the district swelters in a heat wave — with temperatures in the early 30s.
Gisborne District Council has stopped issuing permits for fires and with a forecast for hot days of 30 degrees-plus for the next three days or so, followed by temperatures in the mid to late 20s, means the fire risk will only climb from here on in, principal rural fire officer Rene Londeman says.
On top of that is a prediction of dry northwest to westerly winds, with no significant rain on the horizon, he says.
“There is far too much dry grass and ground litter around at the moment to fuel any serious fire outbreak, and we’re very concerned.”
As a result of the conditions, which saw yesterday’s temperature hit an official high of 31.5 degrees, the council decided to call a halt to the issuing of fire permits.
The only fires that will be permitted from now on will have to be deemed essential.
Higher temperatures in the mid-30s were reported away from the airport weather station, with one set of gauges at Makaraka hitting 34.9 degrees.
Mr Londeman says events in Australia should be a wake-up call to everyone about the dangers of fire, and the potential for huge damage and even loss of life.
“While we have a different climate and environment here, and the fire danger elements are therefore different, there is still the potential for a similar situation to arise — with property and people at risk.”
“We are not in a dire situation yet but the fire risk will only rise.
“Gisborne city and the surrounding area is already rated as an extreme fire risk, and up as far as Matawai is also very high,” Mr Londeman says.
Forests were rated as very high risk just before the weekend’s rain, and will now be back in the danger zone.
The rain was good for croppers and pasture, but insignificant in terms of overall fire risk.
On top of high temperatures and wind, the relative humidity is also dropping — which further exacerbates the risk.
Regarding the Australian fires, Mr Londeman says there are Gisborne fire crew members who would be keen to go over to help — as local firemen have helped in past emergencies in Australia and America.
“However, sending fire staff out of the country is a national decision and the reality for our district is that it is now far too risky to permit any staff to leave,” Mr Londeman says.
“Naturally we’d all like to help the Aussies — and our heart goes out to them — but our top priority is to protect the people and property in this district while the fire danger is so high.”