Burnoffs in 'high fire risk' red zones

20:07, Sep 03 2013

Residents in a high fire risk "red zone" in the hills above Queenstown yesterday questioned the need for burnoffs so close to settlements.

Landowners use controlled burnoffs on farm land to promote spring growth and this week permits were granted for Deer Park Heights and Ben Lomond Station.

Alpine Retreat residents were out in force on Monday evening when a large, controlled burn was lit in the saddle beyond the settlement, part of Ben Lomond Station.

The "red zone" straddles the urban-rural interface between the conservation estate and council-managed land and Monday's burnoff was monitored by Department of Conservation rural fire officer Jamie Cowan.

The department and the council issued permits for the Ben Lomond burn.

Alpine Retreat resident Peta Carey yesterday wrote to Queenstown Lakes District Council asking the authority to consider the potential risk. She said all it would take for a burnoff to spread uncontrollably was a shift in wind strength or direction.

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"We have a total fire ban here. We cannot have a fire outdoors, are appalled to see a cigarette stub on the ground, and live 12 months of the year with a high fire risk.

"I would very much like to hear a commitment from our council not to continue to put lives and livelihoods at such risk."

By the time helicopters were deployed a wildfire could spread to the hilltop settlement.

Mr Cowan said the department assessed the burnoff perimeter and procedures to ensure the fire stayed within its permitted boundary. Residents were given notice.

"From the farmer's perspective they have been burning that land for 150 years. It's a catch-22, I know that some people up there were nervous, some people never batted an eyelid."

Conditions included burning while the fire "buildup index" - a measure of available fuel and rate of combustion - was low and burning uphill into a snowcap.

The Southland Times