Diversions on standby as fire risk grows for bush walk with few exit points
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110591356/-

2019-06-11 17:01:16

A stretch of scenic bush walk in Marlborough could be closed to the public next week over fears walkers could be trapped should a fire break out.

The Queen Charlotte Track - still in contention for Great Walk status - will have diversions in place from Tuesday, at Kenepuru and Torea Saddles, if there is no significant rainfall.

The last time the track had diversions put in place due to fire risk was 20 years ago, when sections were closed off for six weeks in 1999.

Destination Marlborough general manager Jacqui Lloyd said the 23 kilometre section of track from Kenepuru Saddle and Torea Saddle, on the Kenepuru Sound side, had been identified as the highest fire risk.

"This section is predominantly on a ridgeline with very few exit points and therefore, in the event of fire, it could prove difficult to remove walkers off the track quickly," Lloyd said.

"The major risk is a fire starting at the bottom of a hill on Kenepuru Sound side on a dry, hot, high windy day and moving to the top of the hill where the track is. A fire can travel at great speed."

Independent and freedom walkers and riders would not be allowed into the diversion area, which included campsites at Black Rock and Bay of Many Coves.

"Guided walks with DOC concessionaires that meet the guide criteria will still be able to use this section of the track," Lloyd said.

"It is important to note that all other sections of the Queen Charlotte Track, Ship Cove/Meretoto to Camp Bay, and Torea to Anakiwa, are not affected.

"There has been a lot of work behind the scenes ... to ensure that visitors can still experience the track safely," Lloyd said.

Alternative routes included the road between Punga Cove and Portage and a water taxi from Punga Cove.

Queen Charlotte Track chairman Rob Burn said public safety was paramount.

"Once we've got that established, then we want to make sure we continue to provide a great experience for our visitors.

"Most people that are coming to do the track will be more than well aware that the fire danger is extreme," he said.

"I could honestly say that I don't think it would be a surprise that some diversions are in place, when our neighbours in Nelson Tasman have closed all their tracks."

A special emergency meeting was held in Marlborough on Monday to discuss potential fire risks, as farmers in South Marlborough called for a campsite near them to be closed amid tinder-dry conditions.

Fire and Emergency Marlborough principal rural fire officer John Foley flew over the district on Tuesday to assess the fire risk.

On Thursday, Foley provided the Marlborough District Council with a report which said Marfells Beach was no more of a fire risk than any other part of the district.

In the report, he said the risk of ignition did not reach the threshold to prohibit or restrict access to the beach using the Fire and Emergency Act.

With no significant rain forecast for the next two weeks and resources tight following the Tasman fire, response capabilities were reduced, Foley said at Monday's meeting.

Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative director Lynda Scott-Kelly said it had been incredibly hot since Christmas.

"Unfortunately when the risk gets so high, you just have to take measures.

"All it takes is someone to do something silly like throw a cigarette butt out. People just have to absolutely think fire risk," she said.

Marlborough District Council announced on Thursday afternoon walkers using the Wither Hills Farm Park should use only the lower tracks around the town boundary, and not venture up the gully or ridge paths.

If there was a rapidly-moving fire, people on the hills could be at risk of injury or death, a spokesman said.

Council was also considering restrictions at Victoria Domain in Picton.

FENZ recommended all non-essential spark-hazardous work be rescheduled until cooler weather.

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