Forestry

Preventing wildfires on forest plantations

Wildfires in forest plantations can cause significant economic loss and have the potential to spread beyond individual properties, exposing forest owners to considerable financial and business risk. It is vital we all take responsibility for working to prevent fire and reduce risk.

Be a good neighbour

Since less than one percent of wildfires are started as result of lightning, forestry owners have a lot of latitude to prevent forest fires. You can reduce your risk by being an advocate in your community – educate yourself about fire prevention and promote fire permits and adherence to their conditions amongst your neighbours.

A local community working in your favour is a great asset. Supportive neighbours are especially important when the forest owner is an absentee owner. You’re more likely to hear about fire problems from good neighbours than official agencies.

Be a good housekeeper

Plant a buffer of fire-resistant plants and trees. Manage your site by planting or clearing fire breaks, and keep the understory clear of flammable materials on public road edges, ridgelines or property boundaries. Clear trees and scrub near buildings, keep weeds down on forest margins and remove or bury all rubbish.

Use reputable forestry contractors who follow forestry standards by keeping their machinery clean and well maintained, clean, and have working fire extinguishers and good insurance cover.

Discourage illegal activities

Unfortunately, arson is now a major cause of forest fires in New Zealand.

Discourage vandals with locked gates or barriers such as drains, concrete blocks or large trees across entry points to limit vehicle access. Make it difficult for anyone to park and burn a stolen vehicle, use your forest for drug cultivation or deliberately set a fire.

Be vigilant and report suspicious behaviour or report unknown small fires to the Police or Fire and Emergency New Zealand. If necessary, use the Trespass Act 1980.

Avoid escaped controlled burns

Over the past 10 years, 65% of New Zealand wildfires were caused by escapes from agricultural burns, cooking and camping fires. Check your region’s fire season status before you use fire as a land management tool. Go to checkitsalright.nz to apply for a permit online or call 0800 658 628.

In the past decade, several New Zealand farmers died when land clearing fires got out of control. The most recent cases resulted in maximum penalties through court cases. Do not burn unless you have full control of the fire. Learn more about land clearing burns.

Operate machinery safely

Used unsafely, machinery can start large fires that spread quickly over many kilometres.

Whether you're using large industrial vehicles like bulldozers, excavators or trucks, or handheld tools like chainsaws, disc grinders and welding equipment, it's important you take steps to reduce the risk of fire.

  • Be particularly careful when using machinery during extreme fire danger periods. Make sure to check the fire weather and fire season in advance.
  • Keep equipment clean and well maintained.
  • Wet down any areas where you'll be working and keep fire equipment on hand.

Prepare for fire

Make sure you have a fire extinguisher, knapsack spray pump or shovel handy when undertaking any forestry operations. These fire-fighting tools are effective for small fires which have only just started.

Prepare a Fire Response Schedule and provide it to your nearest Fire and Emergency local area office and a helpful neighbour. The schedule will tell them:

  • What to do
  • Who to contact
  • How to access the property
  • Where to find water supplies
  • Hazards on the property.

Access and good signage are important

Internationally, most wildfire fatalities occur because people get trapped by fire during the first two hours of the fire getting out of control.

In New Zealand, many of our private rural roads and bridges are not constructed to the same standards as public thoroughfares. Most fire trucks are limited to well-formed roads and will not travel into forests unless it is safe to do so. It is vital that your property is clearly signed – bridge weight limits, water point access and RAPID number – so that fire fighters can to get to your property in an emergency. Make sure tracks and roads are clear for access by firefighters.

Check your insurance

Reassess your financial risks and liabilities and determine if you or your contractors require insurance. If a fire originates in your small forest and spreads to a neighbouring larger commercial forest is a scenario which I suggest you consider as you think about appropriate insurance cover. The ‘point of origin’ or ‘fire cause’ is the likely target for lawsuits from people suffering losses, so it’s important to consult your insurance broker before making insurance decisions.

If a fire starts

Only suppress a fire if it is safe to do so and you’re confident you can contain it.

Phone 111 immediately. Large fires were once small fires. Giving clear situational Information to Fire and Emergency’s Communication Centres will mean the right fire resources are despatched – helicopters, fire equipment and heavy machinery.

Clearly state your address, road name & RAPID number, approximate area burnt, what’s burning, what’s at risk, wind direction and strength etc

Once you have provided this information, you may wish to:

  • advise your neighbours, if they’re likely to be affected
  • move livestock that may be affected by fire or smoke
  • wait at the road gate to give further information to fire fighters.