25 Mar 2014

More wildfires tipped in NZ

1:26 pm on 25 March 2014

The Fire Service agrees with new research suggesting New Zealand is likely to experience more wildfires because of climate change.


Photo: PHOTO NZ (file)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says New Zealand faces an increased risk of fire, particularly in the north and east of the country.

The Fire Service says research over the past 40 years has shown a growing risk of fire.

National rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said changes to the landscape and land cover are a factor.

He said wilding trees, which have seeded naturally by wind, are spreading in some areas, including the high country around Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago.

They have the potential to increase if there are no controls put on them.

And changes through the retirement of grazing land in the high country are also having an impact.

Mr Dudfield said there isn't as much high country "burn off" as there used to be 20 or 30 years ago, meaning there's a risk of increased fuel loadings.

But Mr Dudfield said the service has strategies in place to manage these changes.

These include heightened public awareness during periods of elevated fire danger and a fire weather monitoring system that allows it to assess the danger daily.

Mr Dudfield said while parts of the country - like the central North Island - are getting drier, he doubts New Zealand wildfires will become like Australia's.

In Australia, fires get into the eucaluptus forest and there is poor access to those fires, so it takes a long time to contain it once they have escaped.

But in New Zealand there's good road access to plantations and other areas, enabling the service to put more energy into first response and ensure any fires are kept to a smallish size.

Mr Dudfield said they are comfortable with the resources that forest owners, the Department of Conservation, local government and the Fire Service have to manage any wildfire that may occur.

The Fire Service also has agreements with its counterparts in Australia, Canada and the United States to call on if needed.