Be fire safe this summer

by Sam Broughton

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has recently released its review of the Port Hills fires in February. 

The fires themselves were unprecedented in New Zealand for their ferocity and proximity to a city.

They covered 1,600ha or 1,600 rugby fields and released the energy equivalent of three Hiroshima sized atomic bombs. Sadly Steve Askin lost his life while combating the fires from the air and nine homes were completely destroyed.

Fire personnel fought the fires for over two months until extinguished and we are grateful for their efforts in evacuating people, saving many buildings, and working through very hot days to put the fire out.

The review commented on all this good work but also highlighted some areas for improvement, particularly around communication. The lessons learned from last fire season will be implemented through Fire and Emergency New Zealand, the newly established agency.

The communication improvements will also be implemented through Selwyn District Council during future emergency events. Our staff and volunteers are keenly aware of keeping people informed with good information. Below are five things that everyone living in Selwyn can do to help themselves and their family should a fire threaten this summer.

Exit Plan

Growing up in a two-storey house I remember Mum and Dad talking to us about how we would get out of the house in a fire should we not be able to get down the stairs. The fires last year highlighted the need for a plan, not only get your family out of your house, but also a plan to get off and away from your property or farm, and should include safe routes and where to meet.

Tennis Balls

Last summer a number of fire personnel told me of homes they had seen burn down. They commented that they (including brick and timber clad homes) usually burned from the roof down and that the best defence was to block your down pipes when you evacuate your house. They said it was as simple as having some tennis balls on hand for the job. That way if a monsoon bucket drops water on your roof, it stays on your roof rather than filling your soak holes.

Fuel and firewood

Another thing we can all do is to think sensibly about what items we leave lying against the side of our houses that burn. I often see firewood stacked to dry against a house or garage. That fuel makes it easier for a wildfire to set the adjacent structure on fire. So think about the places you store your firewood and other fuel you store for lawn mowers and motorbikes.


Keeping large sources of fuel away from our homes is very important. Many homes have large hedges close to them, these hedges will make it hard to defend your home from fire should they catch alight. Tussocks planted around the edge of homes will also make it harder to keep your house safe in a fire emergency. There are many guides online with lists of plants that are fire resistant, check them out when you are planting.


The last thing in this list to think about is how safe it is for fire crews to access your property. Hedges down both sides of your access that could burn, and nowhere to safely park a fire appliance, will mean that you may not receive the help you expect. 

Many of our towns do not have fire hydrants meaning the water to fight your fire will come from tanker trucks or your own water stored onsite. Is this easily accessed?

I trust this list is helpful in generating some discussion about what you would do if your family or home are threatened this summer.