Summer Fire Risk

11 January 2011

It's that time of year again when a backyard fire or sausage sizzle can start a wildfire on the city's dry hillsides. And Wellington is probably more at risk from a major wildfire than any other urban centre in
New Zealand.

Wellington City Council rural firefighter volunteers.

Wellington City Council rural firefighter volunteers.

We have all the ingredients for danger: steep hills, houses built close to gorse, scrub and regenerating bush - and our wind.

The City Council has a dedicated team of volunteers who inspect properties, issue fire permits and work with the Fire Service in emergencies.

The Council's Principal Rural Fire Officer, Jock Darragh, says the La Nina weather system we are experiencing this summer means the region will likely have an increased fire danger, bringing dry easterly winds and below-normal rainfall.

"This is particularly important to us in Wellington because we have the added problems of steep hills covered in vegetation and buildings scattered around these hills."

With our everyday winds, this makes for a dangerous combination. Anybody who intends to light a fire in the open needs to make sure that they have a permit to do so and follow the conditions of that permit.

"If anybody lights a fire and that fire escapes and causes damage, the person who lit the fire could be liable for the cost of the damage along with the cost of fighting the fire. With the cost of a helicopter running to $2800 per hour, this can quickly mount up."

There are a few simple safety rules that will help reduce the fire risk:

  • Check your barbecue cylinder(s).
  • Be sensible when using fire.
  • If in doubt, don't light a fire.
  • Clear vegetation from around your home, creating at least a 10m gap.
  • Don't stack firewood against your house, or under your porch.
  • Clear gutters of dead leaves.
  • Make sure you have a hose that reaches all parts of your section.
  • If your neighbour's section is overgrown, offer to help clear their vegetation.
  • Have an evacuation plan.

Jock says work has been done in rural Wellington to develop a protective system for residents and their properties.

"It's much easier for firefighters to douse a fire on an urban property that's connected to the city's water supply. But for people who live in the rural parts of Wellington, the situation is entirely different."

Throughout Wellington's rural areas, property owners have been joining the RAPID (Rural Area Property Identification) system. Jock and rural community leaders have encouraged nearly 150 property owners to join the RAPID system. This means emergency services can easily identify properties by the distinctive white and reflective red sign posted outside the address of participating property owners. This will avoid any confusion when it comes to responding during an emergency.

"Everybody needs to be vigilant and aware that this year could be an above-average fire danger year. If you see or smell smoke, call 111 immediately and ask for the Fire Service."

For more information on keeping your house and property safe, visit the New Zealand Fire Service website, or call Jock at the Wellington Emergency Management Office on (04) 460 0650 or 021 227 8658.