A total fire ban is currently in place throughout Ashburton District.
The combination of soaring temperatures and very low humidity levels has led to the ban being actioned, meaning no fires can be lit in the outdoors until further notice.
Mid Canterbury Principal Rural Fire Officer Don Geddes says in addition to the district's high country being particularly dry at present, the plains have also become unusually dry, something he has only seen happen a few times in the 15 years he has been in the Principal Rural Fire Officer role.
"Areas throughout the district are now very dry so it's really important people respect the ban as there can be very serious consequences if a fire is lit in these extreme conditions and gets out of control."
A total fire ban status means no lighting of fires under any circumstances, including fires in enclosed drums, braziers, chimineas, solid fuelled barbeques, pizza ovens, hangis and burning of agricultural crop residues or rubbish.
Gas barbeques are permitted, but only on properties serviced with a high pressure/reticulated water system and people still need to exercise caution.
Smokers need to be extra vigilant about extinguishing their cigarette butts before discarding them.
Mr Geddes says several fires that were lit earlier this month when the district was still in a restricted fire season got out of control and required fire suppression measures from the Council and Fire Service.
"These were fires that never should have been lit in the first place, and have caused a lot of unnecessary inconvenience for the firefighters, their families and employers, and damage to neighbouring property. What's really frustrating is that even once the fires were lit they were left unsupervised and with no suppression resources on site; a recipe for disaster."
In one case firefighters were on site for four days carrying out mop up activities. As well as the inconvenience caused, one fire in particular destroyed over five kilometres of a neighbours stock fences.
Council is seeking recovery of all suppression costs from these fires, and legal action is also likely.
"Our rural fire fighters do an incredibly good job and we are lucky to have people like them – all of whom are volunteers – at the ready at all hours of the day and night.
"People need to understand that the cost of any fire damage they cause lies squarely on their shoulders – including damage done to other people's properties. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars for the Forks Road fire."
Mr Geddes says there are things people can do in and around their properties to help minimise the risk from fires, such as:
- Informing farm staff about fire safety precautions as part of their health and safety induction process
- Only mowing early in the morning when there is still dew on the grass
- Keeping house and shed rainwater gutters clear of debris
- Not stacking firewood against a house or any other building on your property
- Generally maintaining a 'green space' around houses and sheds
- Keeping farm machinery well maintained (including keeping exhausts and manifolds free of dust and straw)
- Ensuring a fire extinguisher is always kept on farm machinery.