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Aucklanders ignoring fire ban

Sunday 27 Jan 2013 6:08 p.m.

Unusually dry conditions have continued to cause problems for the Auckland Fire Service.

Although there is a region-wide fire ban in place, the message isn't getting through. It’s the third day of the Auckland-wide fire ban and the Fire Service is still getting an unusually high number of calls.

“We had something like 22 calls to backyard fires, 16 scrub fires, so it appears that that’s almost double our normal volume,” says Larry Cocker, chief fire officer.

An overnight fire in a line of trees at Puhunui Cemetery is typical – a fire police are investigating; a fire that need not have happened. 

“Everything’s very volatile and burns very, very easily,” says Alec Betteridge of the Papatoetoe Fire Station. “Make sure you don’t throw away cigarettes out the window.”

The reason it’s such a concern is Auckland is unusually dry.

“It is unusual,” says Mr Cocker. “Auckland usually has rain somewhere within a week or so, and we haven’t had any in a while.”

Normally the average rainfall for Auckland in January is 71.5mm. With only three days of this month left to go, Auckland has only had 9mm – the driest January for 38 years, since 1974.

And while the warm weather is drawing Aucklanders to the beach, seaside bonfires, fireworks and hāngis are forbidden.

Because it’s so dry, even small fires can get out of hand.

“It’s the rate of fire spread,” says Mr Cocker. “Because the fuels are so dry, any source of ignition will light and it will get away quickly.”

A scrub fire on Waiheke Island last weekend put homes at risk, and a fire at Great Barrier Island has been burning all week. Firefighters think they'll be there another seven days to make sure it doesn't re-ignite.

Forecasters say there's no sign of any rain in the near future, so the ban will stay in place while the fire risk stays at maximum.

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