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  • Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 3 November 2009 Referencing Hub media

    In this video clip, Grant Pearce from Scion’s Rural Fire Research Group at the University of Canterbury talks about causes of fires and the work being done to try to prevent rural fires from happening.

    Point of interest

    What are some of the things scientists suggest for managing fire in rural areas?


    There are a number of reasons for fires in New Zealand. In most cases, though, they are people caused. Very few fires in New Zealand occur from natural causes, that is, from lightning or the spontaneous combustion of decomposing material. So something like 99% of all fires in New Zealand are started by people.

    The major causes of those fires are things like farmers conducting burn-offs and those fires escape and go on to become wildfires – that’s probably the most significant cause of fires in New Zealand – but arson fires, that is, fires that have been deliberately lit, are also on the increase in rural areas in New Zealand.

    There are a number of ways that we can warn people about the risk of fires. The most common one is the fire danger signs that we see on the sides of the road. They are intended to alert people to changing weather conditions and the fact that forest and rural areas are drying out and becoming more fire prone. So those fire danger signs have that primary purpose of notifying the public about the likelihood of fires occurring.

    We aim to educate people to reduce fire causes, but then there are a number of ways that we can use within the broad sort of scheme of fire management. We can look to reduce particular fire causes by limiting certain activities, so that could be stopping people from going into certain areas when the fire danger is very high – so into forest areas or into conservation areas – thereby eliminating the risk of those fires occurring. We can also look to reduce the fuels in an area, so we can go and mow grasses along the roadside, we can prune trees, we can even conduct burning-off operations to reduce the fuels so that, when fires do occur, they burn with less intensity, less vigour, with lower flames, and they are easier to put out.

    One of the key ways that we can stop fires from occurring is to put controls on the lighting of fires, which is having open or restricted or prohibited fire seasons.

    Bushfire CRC, Australia
    Edward McMullin
    National Rural Fire Authority

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