Too Dry to Mow

Hurunui District Council is no longer mowing the edges of the roads outside of the townships, because the fire risk is too high.

roadside grass fireCouncil Roading Team Leader, Brian McManus said that it is just too risky to have contractors' machinery amongst the dry grass. “Just one spark from a mower could start a major blaze.”

Council Principal Rural Fire Officer, Allan Grigg, agreed. ''There have already been instances where this has occurred in the past few weeks - the risk of accidental ignition is extreme. Here in the Hurunui, the current dry conditions and plentiful fuel would cause any fire to spread quickly and could take weeks to put out.

“Drivers also need to be alert to the risk that their vehicles pose in the current extreme conditions. Even pulling over to the side of the road to answer their phone, or read a map could be disastrous. Hot exhausts or sparks from an exhaust can ignite the dry grass, and then the motorists go on their way not realising a fire's started behind them.”

“Not mowing our rural roadsides does add to the fuel risk burden, but we have been keeping the grass trimmed up until now, and the dry conditions are limiting the growth anyway. Things may look a little scraggly for a while – but the risk of mowing is riskier than not.
Two weeks ago Anders Crofoot, Federated Farmers Rural Fire Spokesperson, warned farmers and the rural community of the risk in mowing roadside vegetation in the extreme dry conditions.

“The fire environment has reached the point where it has become extremely dangerous and high risk to use a mechanical mower to top paddocks and mow road sides,”

Mr Grigg also urged caution when using machinery such as weed-eaters, tractors, grinders, welders, chainsaws and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The Council will continue to mow the townships’ grass berms, parks and reserves on a case-by-case basis. The Council’s contractors will assess these before undertaking the mowing, and if they deem the risk to be too high these will be left. “Some of these areas may start to look a bit scraggly and untidy” said Mr Grigg, “But I’m sure the public will understand the reasons behind this and support us”.

Mr Grigg says that householders wanting to mow their property are best to do so in the morning when there is dew on the ground and temperatures are cooler. “This morning would have been ideal – the light drizzle would have limited the risk of sparks igniting”. He went on to say that water hoses, fire extinguishers or even a wet sack or towel should be kept at hand and a fire watch should be kept on areas after work had finished ensuring nothing ignited.

The rural community are also being asked to consider temporarily fencing their grass berms and grazing the “long acre” to help keep fuel loads down. There are some safety considerations around the type of fencing that can be used and how far back it needs to be from the road edge - call Raewyn on 314-0037 or visit the Council’s website for more information

“I can’t stress the level of risk at the moment,” Said Mr Grigg, “But if we all play our part we can get through this. Stay vigilant people; stay vigilant.”

What else can you do?

• Keep the grass along your boundaries and near buildings mown or grazed to limit potential fire spread
• Remove dead vegetation, clean roofs and gutters, trim and thin trees, plant low flammability species, and remove rubbish
• Urban and rural fire trucks are three metres high by three metres wide and weigh up to 20 tonnes. Can these vehicles fit through your gate and get down your driveway? Are bridges and culverts on your property able to carry the weight? What about quick access to building locations and water points?
• Water points should be clearly marked and should have good vehicle access, including a turning area for a water tanker.
• Examine your electric fences and ensure they are in good working order and there is no risk of arcing or earthing out as sparks may cause a fire.