Mitigating rural fire risk

by Mike Isle

According to a report for the NZ Fire Commission by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited, some lifestyle block owners don’t believe their properties represent a fire risk.

It comes at a time when the local fire service is warning the rural community that summer brings with it a heightened fire risk. However, some lifestyle block owners are not heeding the warning or believe they have already done enough to mitigate the risk on their property.

The institute’s report found that some owners were more worried about the actions or non-actions of their neighbours.

“Although lifestyle block owners understood there was a high fire risk in their neighbourhoods, they mostly thought their behaviour would not cause an out-of-control fire, and that any such fire would more likely come from a neighbouring property,” the report states.

There was also a perception responsibility for mitigating the risk rested with the local territorial authority, although they acknowledged they too had some responsibility.

“The majority thought it was the authority’s job to educate, and the property owners’ responsibility to implement that education, and for the authorities to support implementation. Interviewees seemed to want more clarification on best practices.”

The report says that improved working relationships with other parties such as neighbours and authorities were also seen as helpful and they saw communication as key to getting the message out about reducing fire risk.

Some ways individuals can mitigate the fire risks on their properties are outlined by the district’s principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes. In his experience, Janes said, farmers are fairly good at mitigating the fire risk on their property, and there are plenty of resources on the Fire and Emergency website to help them.

He said that measures that block owners and farmers can and should take are keeping undergrowth and grass short around building by mowing regularly, ensuring access to a property for large vehicles like fire appliances — he says the four-metre-high, four-metre-wide is a good rule of thumb.

Bird nests in machinery such as tractors, quad bikes, even aircraft, pose a real threat he says.

“In general terms, now is the time to have a clean-up around the property to prevent problems later. Just stay aware that there is always a fire risk and there is quite a lot we do on farms that can start a fire.

Just staying aware of that, planning ahead, will be a great help.”

Fire and Emergency NZ recommends farmers keep track of three websites.

Their site fireandemergency.nz has a section focussed on farming, fire weather.

NIWA niwa.co.nz has current weather forecasts and checkitsalright.nz has the current rural risk status.