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Canterbury fire season report

Canterbury fire season report

Four major fires and several smaller fires in rural Canterbury since Christmas are likely to cost in total more than $1.5 million in fire control, the Department of Conservation says.

“Some of our firefighters have put in 20-hour days or more and are still going,” DOC Canterbury Conservancy technical services fire officer Tony Teeling said today.

(Mr Teeling’s contact details: 03 371 3767, 027 281 6709)

“While a lot of the fires have not occurred on public conservation land, it is part of the department’s good neighbour policy to fight fires in areas near the land we manage.”

“Heavy deployment of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters at initial attack have allowed us to contain fires. This season’s fires have been larger than in previous years because of the conditions of extreme fire risk.”

“Conditions in Canterbury have been the direst for 100 years, in terms of soil moisture content. The fuel, that is, the vegetation is so dry and well-cured that fires are extremely volatile in their behaviour. We are getting extreme fire behaviour, 100 percent of the fuel burns. The fire goes into a gaseous state, that’s when the fire appears to go into a liquid state and the fire almost hovers over the countryside. Changes in direction occur rapidly and unpredictably.”

Detailed situation reports: comments attributed to Mr Teeling

27 December 2003 Harman’s Road fire: Three days. Burned 4 ha. 65 staff hours on day 1, then 40 on the next day, and 15 on the third. Followed by mop-up crew. 3 helicopters Cause: possum shorted 11000 kilovolt wires and fell burning to the ground. Fire in matagouri, broom, tussock, and near private dwellings. “It was a very difficult fire to control because of the flammability of the material and the fact that it was near a number of houses.”

1 January, 2004 Nomans/Craigieburn Ranges fire Six days. Burned 517 ha. Up to 100 staff hours the first day, then 80 the second, and mop-up crews for four days. 4 high country fire appliances 8 helicopters 2 fixed wing aircraft Suspected cause: sparks from a train “It was a very fast, very big fire. The behaviour of the fire was scary. We got a helo chasing stock out of the path of the fire. The fire was heading rapidly from Selwyn District Council land, a high country station, towards the Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park.”

3 January, 2004 Dunsandel fire Six days and counting. Still active and being mopped up. Burned 123 ha. 60 staff hours on day 1, then 40 on day two, followed by mop-up crews. 6 helicopters 2 fixed wing aircraft Suspected arson: started in an old dumpsite, and concurrently 2km down the road when sparks from an angle grinder started a fire next to a farm building. Roads were closed and stock evacuated. “An entire town was threatened at one point. We air-lifted the residents of one house with a helicopter off their lawn. Two lots of two farmers were rescued from the flank of the fire by helicopters when the wind changed and the flank turned into a fire head. Crowd control was difficult with 25 cars on the road downwind of the fire. The fire’s behaviour was wild and unpredictable.”

5 January, 2004 Mt Somers fire Four days and counting. Burned 260 ha. 70 staff hours the first day, 55 daily for the next three days. 20 staff at the incident control centre have clocked up 2800 staff hours to date. 4 graders 2 bulldozers 2 20-tonne diggers many water tanks 10 helicopters 3 fixed wing aircraft Suspicious cause Roads were closed and 11 houses evacuated. Evacuation plan for a township perpared.

General information:

Figures given are approximate because of the way fire data are collected nationally - some through the NZ Fire Service 111 system, others through reports to the National Rural Fire Authority.

On average New Zealand experiences 3500 rural fires each year with a total of 10,000 ha burnt.

DOC on average experiences 80 fires (177 ha burnt) a year on the lands it administers and a further 70 fires (100 ha burnt) within a fier safety margin - 1km beyond DOC land and other Crown-administered lands.

Fires within DOC lands are caused by visitors, arson, railway traffic, powerlines failure and lightning. In some cases, the causes are unknown.

Average cost of fire suppression on lands administered by DOC is $440,000 a year and within the fire safety margin, $288,000 a year.

The size of fires and cost to suppress depend upon how dry and windy a year is. Years of little rain and high winds result in years of costly fire suppression.

DOC has a fire fighter fitness programme and all of its fire fighters and fire managers train to the requirements of Unit Standards off the NZQA National Framework. All field workers are trained as fire fighters as part of their job. DOC works with the Coordinated Incident Management System to manage fires.

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