As the big dry continues across parts of the country and scrub fires ravage the Port Hills near Christchurch and hills south of Hastings, some harvesting and silviculture crews are already being forced to leave the forests early to avoid working in the hottest part of the day.
Significant dryness in eastern North Island, well below normal rainfall (<50% of normal) in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Northland. In fact, parts of the country have received only 20% of the normal summer rainfall to date and there will need to be more rain that the showers experienced this week to make a difference.
Most regions have introduced fire bans to try and limit the dangers during the hot, dry weather and in some East Coast forests north of Gisborne crews are starting work earlier in the morning (think 3.30am) and finishing before midday in a bid to reduce the risk of sparks starting wildfires as temperatures soared into the 30s.
These measures appear to have worked for much of the summer, as scrub/forest fires were significantly reduced from early January through to early February, but two big fires this week have rural communities and foresters worried again.
The series of fires that broke out near Hastings, led to a State of Emergency being called on Monday as numerous homes were threatened by the blazing scrub, with one house being completely destroyed. Pine trees in a 200-hctare forest in the Craggy Range area were bulldozed in an attempt to stop the fire spreading any further into the plantation. In addition to ground crews, eight helicopters with monsoon buckets were being used to contain the fires.
Meanwhile fire fighters were struggling to contain out-of-control fires in the Port Hills, overlooking Christchurch, where a State of Emergency was also declared as the fire flared up over Wednesday night and Thursday morning, destroying some homes and leading to mass evacuations.
The Christchurch scrub fires had burned through about 1850 hectares since starting on Monday, with 15 helicopters assisting more than 120 fire personnel and Defence Force crews to fight the blazes.
Tragically, one pilot lost his life when his helicopter crashed while helping to douse flames. David Steven Askin, 38, of Waimakariri, a pilot with Way to Go Heliservices who was also a former SAS soldier, died after his chopper came down over Sugar Loaf car park on Tuesday.
Over in Australia, temperatures in the 40s on the east coast of the continent also saw a number of wild fires break out across tinder-dry New South Wales, with hot winds continuing to fan the flames as fire fighters race to contain the blazes.