Fire starters

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Power lines will set trees ablaze – locals.

Take a closer look at these trees – those brown tinges aren’t the tell-tale signs of a Wakatipu autumn.

These trees on Mooney Road near Arrowtown and others on Glenorchy Rd at Closeburn are dangerously close to power lines, and residents fear the fire hazard is a powder-keg waiting to happen.

But Delta, the lines company responsible, isn’t likely to trim the branches till June – despite admitting the matter’s “very serious”.

Mooney Rd residents Bruce and Suzy Walker first contacted Delta three years ago about a patch of hawthorn trees growing on their roadside but nothing’s been done.

“We notified them three times and now the hawthorn is actually growing through the wires and is probably a metre above the wires, so the wires actually run right the way through – there’s singeing and burning on some of the leaves,” says Bruce Walker.

“There’s a fire risk – the lines could come down – we’ve got kids who walk up and down the road.”

Aside from fire, there’s also the risk of a power outage, Walker adds.

“If it suddenly shorts out, it blows your fridge and your washing machine and all the other computer things and who pays for that? Often a lot of insurance companies won’t deal to that.”

As a result of Mountain Scene inquiries, Suzy Walker says Delta has finally got back to them – to say they don’t have the budget to trim the trees till June.

“But we won’t hold our breath,” she says.

Closeburn resident Andrew Yeo fears overgrown trees by the Closeburn Rd turnoff could spark a similar blaze to the massive bush fire – caused by fireworks – that ravaged the area in 2005 and threatened 60 homes.

“The fire came within 300-400 metres of our house – I know that was a firecracker but anything can start a fire.

“If [Delta’s] putting their head in the sand, what happens if there is a fire and they are the cause of it – are they going to pay for it?

“If you have a fire – and everybody knows that’s happened [last month in Victoria] in Australia – and somebody does die, the shit is going to hit the fan.”

For all tree maintenance involving local power lines, Delta is legally required to trim trees first then notify landowners that it’s their responsibility to keep them trimmed after that.

Queenstown Lakes District Council parks boss Gordon Bailey says he’s never been contacted by Delta about the Mooney and Glenorchy Rd trees.

“They did have a big programme of tree trimming here but I happen to know they’ve cut that in the last few months. They did have a rather rigorous regime but I don’t know what’s happened to that.”

Delta’s Dunedin-based maintenance boss Brent Vink admits the issue’s “very serious”.

“If we hadn’t have had the wet summer, there’d be a very high risk of [fire].”

He says the “constrained” budget means cutting back on local tree work.

“We’ve still got to comply with the law, it’s just a matter of which ones are a priority over others.”

So Delta hasn’t got the money to do what you accept needs doing?

“Fair comment,” Vink says.

Delta’s 08004DELTA line takes calls from people worried about trees encroaching on power lines.