Bushfire risk in Wellington

ALEX FENSOME AND TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 07:14 27/03/2014

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Climate change poses a risk to Wellington homes on the edge of forest and scrub patches, the Rural Fire Authority says.

The latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, part of which was leaked ahead of its formal release next week, said New Zealand summers would get drier and hotter in the next century and lead to increased risk of wildfire, extending the fire danger season.

Wilding pine populations could expand, threatening private plantations and property.

Wellington principal rural fire officer Rachael Thorp said the main risk in the capital was to homes that backed on to forest and bush.

"There are a lot of areas with houses up against the bushline," she said. "Karori, even the eastern and western hills. We're trying to combat that."

Homeowners should clear a "defensible space" - a gap between the bush and their property - which could act as a firebreak. "We go out to properties and talk to homeowners about clearing their gutters and making sure they've got less flammable species around their properties."

It could be hard to get Wellingtonians to take the idea of bushfires seriously. "There's a little bit of complacency out there . . . If people haven't had a fire around their property, they start to let stuff grow a bit."

Gorse and pine trees posed a particular threat.

Nuisance wilding pines were a problem as they could spring up everywhere if not controlled.

"[They] just add to the fuel that's available and increase the fire intensity, which makes it more dangerous for firefighters and people living around them."

Homeowners could also plant hardier species such as broadleaf, which was less of a risk in a fire, Ms Thorp said.

National rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said the fire season was lasting markedly longer, making scrub drier and vulnerable to fire. "We now have longer fire seasons than we used to 50 years ago. Even as I speak they have declared a drought north of Auckland at the end of March."

The wilding pine population, which covered 250,000 hectares nationwide, was expected to double, he said.

The runaway pines were an issue around Queenstown and Otago, where their proximity to homes could prove a problem.

Fires in radiata pines, when dry, had similar effects to the devastating wildfires in Australia's eucalyptus forests.

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- The Dominion Post

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