Is the Otago/Southland region ready for a large-scale fire?

Dozens of personnel from around the country, including Otago and Southland, helped fight last month's forest fires in Nelson.

One of the biggest landowners in Otago and Southland is the Department of Conservation (Doc).

Doc's national fire manager Bryan Jensen said Doc was well prepared for a fire on public conservation land (PCL), with more than 400 trained firefighters available should they be needed.

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''Our firefighter resources are available to fight fires both on and off PCL, i.e. we assist Fire Emergency New Zealand [Fenz] with fires off PCL when requested.

''An example of this is that we have recently sent over 100 firefighters to assist Fenz with the Nelson fire and have also sent firefighters to Australia to help with the Tasmanian fires.

''Under the new Fire and Emergency New Zealand legislation Fenz is responsible for suppression of fires on PCL.

''Our role is to support Fenz as required.

''This differs significantly from the position we were in prior to July 1 last year, when the department was a Rural Fire Authority in its own right and as such carried the responsibility for suppression of wildfires over much of the country.

Doc now works with Fenz and has an agreement that spells out the services Fenz will deliver to Doc and the services and support Doc will provide to Fenz.

''This arrangement ensures we maintain a high level of protection for PCL.''.

Fenz Otago Southland community engagement adviser (region 5) Sally Chesterfield said Fenz was prepared for any fire event in the region.

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''Just as the councils plan for flood events, we plan for fire events,'' she said.

It worked with partners to ensure they could respond appropriately and access resources as needed, working as a community, regional and national team.

While Southland was greener than Nelson, there had been significant vegetation growth throughout the region as a result of the wetter, warmer spring and summer.

She said this season had been hotter and drier than in previous years.

''Central Otago had a total fire ban, as that region was much drier, and Southland is in a restricted season.''

It was important for both communities and individuals to be prepared for a fire event.
That included - on a household and farm level - having an escape plan, building a fire break, keeping the home clear of surrounding vegetation and knowing where water sources are.

She also encouraged more people to volunteer as firefighters.

Federated Farmers territory manager for the region Nick Abbott said it was important people took off their political hats and worked together.

The situation in Nelson proved it was important for farmers and foresters to have emergency plans in place for them, their property and their livestock and to be aware of the Civil Defence emergency response procedures.

He also said it was important to make it easier for more dams and ponds to be built in and around forestry as a water source in case of fires.

Southern Rural Life