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Climate change will increase rural fire danger

Media Release
13 July 2005


Climate change will increase rural fire danger, says report

Scientists expect the risk of rural fires in New Zealand to increase with climate change over the rest of the century. This is particularly so in the Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Nelson, and in the east of both islands from Gisborne to Wairarapa and Marlborough to Canterbury.

These findings are contained in a report to the Fire Service Commission by scientists at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and Scion (formerly Forest Research).

‘Dangerous fire weather results from a combination of strong winds, high temperatures, low humidity, and seasonal drought. These conditions are expected to increase with global warming and the associated climate change and hence increase the number of days when very high and extreme forest fire danger occurs. This is likely to lead to an increase in the number and extent of rural fires,’ says NIWA climate scientist, Dr Jim Salinger.

‘At the same time the length of the rural fire season, which currently runs from October to April may extend from September to May.’

Currently, there are about 3000 rural fires a year, burning about 7000 hectares of land. ‘The drier, windier weather expected with climate change will lead to easier ignition, faster fire spread, greater areas burned, and increased fire suppression costs and damage. Increased frequency of drought will lead to longer fire seasons, greater fuel availability, increased fire intensities, and increased resource requirements and more difficult fire suppression,’ says Dr Salinger.

There are also likely to be more thunderstorms with attendant lightning, but some of these risks may be offset by increased rainfall.

ENDS

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