Wakatipu gripped by dry spell


The forecast is bleak for farmers and firefighters in the Wakatipu Basin as the summer shapes up as one of the driest in years.

With the Wakatipu Basin in the grip of El Nino, residents and visitors are being warned about the dangers of sparking fires.

Otago Rural Fire Authority deputy rural fire officer Jamie Cowan, of Queenstown, says the fire risk is fluctuating between very high and extreme.

“We are significantly drier here in the Wakatipu Basin than we have been for the last six or seven years.

“We normally peak in early February, but we’re already well above last year’s peak.”

Firefighters attended 10 vegetation fires in Wakatipu in the past week caused by fireworks, campfires and the reignition of permitted burn-offs.

“People need to recognise just how dry it is and common sense should prevail.

“Fireworks certainly shouldn’t be let off anywhere in the Southern Lakes.”

No fire permits have been issued since December 20, and an official fire ban will come into force this weekend.

He advises against using lawnmowers, chainsaws or angle grinders – particularly in the late afternoon – and says parking vehicles in long grass should be avoided.

Queenstown weather forecaster David Crow says the resort received only 29.6mm of rain last month, less than half the month’s average of 68mm, making it the driest December since 2011.

There has been no rain in central Queenstown since December 21, and this month will be “very dry”.

It will continue the trend of lower than average rainfall for the past four months, an effect of El Nino, he says.

Dalefield farmer Chris Dagg says higher temperatures in the past fortnight are starting to bite after four months of low rainfall.

Despite his full water allocation being used, his paddocks are browning off and he’s unsure if he can produce enough winter feed for his stock.

With January and February usually the driest months of the year, he is not expecting significant rain for some time, he says.

“It’s frustrating but you can’t beat the climate.”

The fire danger remains high elsewhere in Otago, despite some rain last week, Otago Rural Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Stephanie Rotarangi says.

The authority is monitoring fire danger hourly during some days.

Otago Daily Times