Well, when I said I would be posting again on February 21st I had no idea that circumstances would be rather dramatic. In the low light just before sunrise the flames seemed particularly threatening.
A fire began during the night in the scrub on a hillside by Owhiro Bay - on the opposite side of the valley to the houses in this image. They were not threatened but houses closer to the fire were, and people had to be evacuated. Nobody was hurt and there was no damage to any houses. The firefighters - people and helicopters - had a lot of work to do, evident in the bright daylight.
The fire-blackened vegetation on several ridges can be seen behind the smoke. There were three red helicopters in action (how small they look!) and one is emptying its water bucket by a stand of pine trees which seem to have been spared. Then it is off to refill...
A helicopter approaches Owhiro Bay to refill its bucket, flying low and scooping the seawater.
The fire was fuelled by the dry scrub, especially the very flammable yellow-flowered gorse, of which there is a great deal over the steep hills. Oils in the gorse plant apparently make it difficult to put out the fire. Gorse was brought to New Zealand by British settlers who used it as a hedging plant, and seemed to have some fondness for it - this is puzzling as it is a thorny and threatening thing close up! But it has been wildly successful - in other words it is a weed, a plant thug. However, in the harsh environment of the south coast it does provide some shelter for native plants to grow and emerge.
We have had an unusually sunny and dry summer - very pleasant for people unless they are farmers or growers of fruit and vegetables. But thank goodness, some rain is forecast tonight.