Thursday, April 25, 2024

From a spark to a wildfire in a flash

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A Methven crop farmer was about to finish harvesting at midnight when a truck caught alight.
The sky is lit up by fire at the Lattimores’ farm on Thursday morning. Photos: Supplied
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Methven crop farmer Ben Lattimore had never been happier to see the flashing lights of a fire engine.

Ben and wife Chiara, who grow crop seed at their Arranlea Farm, were poised to finish a long hot day of harvesting at about 12.20am on Thursday, when one of their trucks burst into flames.

Straw had got caught near the exhaust and ignited.

While fire extinguishers were used to save the truck, by that time the fire had spread to recently harvested stubble and, driven by strong winds, into a paddock of barley situated alongside their home.

“That day in particular was really hot. Everything dried out in the paddocks and then the wind came up,” Ben said.

“The fire just took off. The wind was that strong I don’t think it would have mattered how much water we had or how many people we put there, we just couldn’t stop it.”

Lattimore immediately rang 111 and was relieved when firefighters from Methven, Mt Somers, Lauriston, Mayfield, Rakaia, Ashburton and Alford Forest arrived to help battle the blaze. 

The fire got within about 10m of the Lattimores’ home.

Friends and neighbours also arrived to offer their assistance in a bid to prevent the blaze from spreading further.

Chiara rushed home to alert her mother and children Micky, 4, and Poppy, 3, evacuating them to a neighbour’s property.

“I was numb really,” Chiara said. 

“I had people ringing me asking what they could do to help and I didn’t know what to tell them.”

It took almost four hours for the fire to be extinguished, but not before the Lattimores lost 50ha of stubble and 36ha of unharvested barley. 

Fortunately the fire was stopped within about 10m of their home.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Ben said.

“The promptness of the fire brigade turning up was amazing. I was very glad to see those flashing lights coming in, and so many of them. We are really thankful that everyone was prepared to drop everything at the time of night to come and help.”

This view of the fire from a harvester shows how far the blaze spread.

Lattimore said the incident had been a wake-up call and they are now looking at ways to protect their crops in the event of future fires.

“We’ve never had anything like that before and I hope we never have anything like that again. 

“We’ve learnt now that we will have irrigators placed across the paddocks that haven’t been harvested. In the worst case, we can then start the irrigators and that will help cut our losses.”

He was philosophical about the fire and thankful no buildings were damaged or people hurt.

“It is what it is. Now, we’ve just got to figure out how to make some money off the paddock to keep everyone happy.”
The Lattimores’ fire began as many Canterbury emergency services staff were battling a huge blaze at Christchurch’s Port Hills, which began on Wednesday.

FENZ said the fire is now about 70% contained but had spread to about 650 hectares. 

On Friday morning, the fire was being fought by 95 staff, 22 trucks and tankers, five diggers, two heavy machinery specialist vehicles, about 12 helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft.

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