Climate change makes more intense and damaging fires likely in New Zealand and we need to be better prepared, a Whanganui rural fire officer says.
Fires in Nelson's Pigeon Valley and Christchurch's Port Hills in the past few years are an example of what to expect, Whanganui/Ruapehu/Taranaki deputy principal rural fire officer Gavin Pryce said.
"In time we can expect to see more larger-type vegetation fires, with a longer duration. New Zealand needs to do a bit more work in risk reduction."
People in rural areas can make sure there is enough space around their house to allow them to "defend" it, Pryce said. A clear 30m on all sides, with no large trees or long grass, is recommended.
Wind quickly dries out soil and vegetation, makes fires hard to contain and prevents helicopters flying and fighting them.
Fire danger was high on January 6, when wind gusts of 78km/h were recorded in Whanganui.
"There were many, many fires reported in this area and across the North Island," Pryce said.
"A number of fires at the same time stretches our resources, but we are prepared for that."
Two grass fires in the Ruapehu district were started by passing trains, and another in Rangitīkei by either a train or a car.
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Whanganui's fire danger is currently moderate but that can change on a daily basis, depending on wind and humidity. It's steadily moving towards high and there will probably be fire restrictions within the next two weeks, starting at the coast, Pryce said.
After that people will need a permit for an outdoor fire. Applications can be made online at checkitsalright.nz , where people can also type in their address to find out whether they are under any restrictions.
Each fire permit has to be checked and Pryce asks people applying in the first few days after restrictions to be patient.
"There's a huge flood of applications when restrictions begin."
People lighting fires are asked to start them in the morning, when there's less wind, and to consider the weather and have water handy.
Ruapehu is still looking green, Pryce said, and often stays that way. But there were 30C temperatures in Taumarunui recently, and last summer there were thunderstorms inland and several fires started by "dry lightning".
Australia's current fires are at a level never experienced there before - and never experienced in New Zealand at all.
Drought is a factor, Australia's oily eucalyptus trees burn very hot and air temperatures have been up around 44gC. Pryce experienced similarly intense fires during five weeks helping out in Canada in 2018, and may also go to Australia this summer.
"I'm holding off because I've also got my own patch to look after."
Government's One Billion Trees initiative will not increase fire danger in New Zealand, he said, because forestry companies are good at managing risk.
"They know what's happening with the weather and on high fire danger days they have early knock-off for crews, and stay on the site for an hour to make sure there are no sparks smouldering."
The companies also make sure forests have fire breaks, tracks for vehicle access and water supplies in ponds and dams.
"We have a relationship with a lot of forestry companies and we are always in regular contact."