21 May 2017

Port Hills fires spark research

8:23 pm on 21 May 2017

Researchers looking at the recovery of the fire-ravaged Port Hills in Christchurch hope their work will help reduce the impact of future fires.

The blaze, which broke out in February, was out of control for over a week. It destroyed 11 homes and burnt through several reserves and farmland.

At the Ohinetahi Bush Reserve much of the land remains black and charred, still clearly marking the path which the fire tore through.

For Canterbury University researcher and PhD student Ana Teixeira, the area will be an important focus of her work for the next three years.

Ms Teixeira has set up a number of plots across the fire damaged hills, so she can monitor the re-growth of plant species.

She said in some less severely burnt areas, "the plants are already starting to sprout and recover."

Ms Teixeira said by monitoring growth she would be able to better understand how native and exotic species were affected by fire.

"But also we would like to have some conclusions that could help the recovery and the restoration of the Port Hills here," she said.

Ana Teixeira and David Norton in the fire damaged Ohinetai Bush Reserve.

Ana Teixeira and David Norton in the fire damaged Ohinetahi Bush Reserve. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

University of Canterbury ecology professor David Norton is supervising the research.

Professor Norton said climate change was creating more fire-prone conditions.

"I think the climate models are suggesting that for the eastern South Island, we are going to get more droughty weather.

"I think understanding the way this fire has affected the vegetation and how it responds might help us both to understand what might happen in the future and to plan for it."

Burnt gorse in the Ohinetahi Bush Reserve.

Burnt gorse in the Ohinetahi reserve. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

Some preliminary findings from Ana Teixeira's research are expected in about a year's time.

Ms Teixeira said the plots would remain in place once her work was done, so that the regeneration of the Port Hills could continue to be monitored for decades to come.

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