Inferno revisited, air effort saved properties

JOHN EDENS IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 11:22 07/11/2012
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An image from footage of the 2010 New Year's Day fire in Roxburgh.

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The Fire Service has recommended emergency management system improvements after a massive fire in the hills overlooking Roxburgh almost three years ago.

The final review of the 40-hectare fire on New Year's Day, 2010, which destroyed one house and spread rapidly through tinder-dry scrub, tussock and trees on hills above the Central Otago town, was signed off by regional assistant national commander Stu Rooney.

Six helicopters, 60 Fire Service and Central Otago District Council rural firefighters and support crew spent more than 20 hours tackling the fire while northwest winds of more than 100kmh fanned the blaze.

The report analysed the incident response, emergency management and jurisdictional issues for the fire which straddled the Roxburgh urban fire zone and the rural fire district.

One interviewee said everyone acted professionally, any personal differences were set aside and operations were run with mutual respect but liaising between police and the incident command could have been better.

"During the interviews it became apparent that familiarity with and knowledge of CIMS [the controlled incident management system used by emergency services in New Zealand] varied between individuals and across agencies."

The report said the fire straddled the urban-rural boundary and an early request for a rural brigade was instrumental in providing advice and expertise to the controller, the report said.

It was often argued that most Fire Service responses were single-agency events but the possibility existed that fire-fighters were required to operate in a complex emergency with multiple agencies over several days.

A comprehensive knowledge of CIMS must exist in all brigades, at least for officers and other agencies responsible for emergency management.

Given the spread of the fire into the rural zone, that agency was given responsibility for arranging the helicopter response, which was instrumental in limiting the spread of the bushfire.

Had it not been for the aerial operations, the speed at which the first helicopters arrived and were deployed, particularly given the marginal wind and failing light, more properties would have been lost, the report said.

Aerial firefighting directly saved one property and indirectly saved many more.

Urban and rural crews worked well together although not all personnel were aware of the overall plan and it was difficult to establish who exactly from the Fire Service was in attendance because of poor discipline with paperwork.

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Despite the difficulties, weather, topography, firefighting overnight and jurisdictional issues, there was no loss of life or injuries and only one property was lost.

This was testament to the professionalism of all the agencies and the helicopter crews, the report said.

The probable cause of the fire was combustible material blown into power lines, igniting and setting fire to vegetation on the western side of Branxholme St.

- The Southland Times

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