Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 21 February 2019

Coping with extreme weather

I watched closely the recent news reports about wildfires that ravaged parts of Nelson and Tasman. Two fires, 20km apart, started on 5 February. The Pigeon Valley blaze in Tasman District ripped through 2335 hectares making it one of the largest fires in New Zealand for decades. At its height, 22 helicopters were fighting the fire and 3000 people evacuated from their homes. Incredibly, no lives were lost and just one home was destroyed.

Earlier this month, fire swept through 5 hectares of scrub and bush at Shipwreck Bay, forcing the evacuation of four homes. That blaze destroyed one bach and a shed. In January, Horeke lost 65 hectares of scrub and pines. At its height, four fire appliances and three helicopters fought the Horeke fire front. Also in January, the northern side of historic Rangihoua Pa on the Purerua Peninsula was engulfed in flames. These events demonstrate how quickly a stray spark (or deliberate acts, as happened at Purerua Peninsula and Shipwreck Bay) can become out-of-control blazes that threaten lives and property in tinder dry conditions.

On 29 January, Fire and Emergency New Zealand declared a total fire ban for Northland on the heels of record temperatures across the country. Last week, that organisation asked Northland councils to stop using machinery that might ignite fires in dry grass or scrub. This follows investigations into the Nelson fires pointing to a spark from farm machinery as the origin of one blaze.

For the time being, machines like flail mowers, mulchers, chainsaws and hard-bladed weed eaters that can create sparks when they hit loose stones or that have very hot exhaust systems will not be used by Council and we have instructed our contractors not mow roadsides and some reserves. I urge all Far North residents to also consider how they use machinery around dry vegetation. In the meantime, the Northland total fire ban remains in place and anyone caught lighting rubbish and scrub fires faces a maximum fine of $300,000 or even a jail term of two years.

This summer we have applied restrictions on water use at Kaitaia, Hokianga, Kaikohe and Kerikeri. Despite ongoing high temperatures and very little recent rain around the district, we have decided not to tighten those restrictions. This is due to the strong possibility Tropical Cyclone Oma will track east of Australia and bring wet weather to New Zealand this weekend. Exactly where this cyclone is heading will be much clearer today and tomorrow, and we will be getting regular updates from Northland Civil Defence on the cyclone's progress. If we are lucky, it will bring much needed rain to the region and take pressure off our stressed water supplies.

Whatever path the cyclone takes, please be prepared in case Oma causes flooding and road closures in your area. Rest assured, we will be working round the clock to keep you and your whanau connected.



My Columns
Media Reports
Photo Gallery
Press Releases