Fire risk identification tools on their way

  • 19/12/2015
Fire risk identification tools on their way

Research is under way to identify fire risks in individual valleys in a region so forest fires, like the huge one in Marlborough this month, can be prevented.

Investigators are still working out how the fire that scorched 1250 hectares started at a forest processing site on Parsons Road, Wairau Valley, on December 10.

Forest owner Nelson Forests says it'll still get some money for the fire-damaged logs in export markets because they're from mature trees.

Younger trees would have been a write-off.

The outbreak of the fire and its severity came as a surprise, says Andrew Karalus, estate manager for Nelson Management Ltd.

He says logging will continue, except when the fire risk is severe, because 1500 people in Nelson and Marlborough rely on regular work from the industry.

Marlborough Principal Rural Fire Officer Richard McNamara says the authority's report on the Wairau Valley fire will be made public.

Its independent investigator will work with investigators appointed by insurers and they generally get to the point where they agree on the point of origin and the likely mechanism for the start of a fire.

Mr McNamara says logging does stop when the fire risk is high but the regional codes are based on the location of weather stations and don't measure risk at a specific site.

Work is under way by Crown research institute Scion to develop a hand-held device to monitor the temperature, wind, humidity and rainfall at specific locations to help contractors identify places within a fire region where the fire risk is higher.

"We're working with Scion to develop methods for contractors and forest companies to use," Mr McNamara says.

The Wairau fire occurred at a processing site on a steep slope.

"If that fire had occurred on flat ground it would have been caught," Mr McNamara said.

Mr Karalus says the weather conditions that led to the fire were not unusual.

"We will learn more from the latest events and we are tapping into expert advice to find out what happened and to improve our controls."

He agrees more work needs to be done to respond to the conditions under which a fire is more likely to start and spread.

He says weather conditions have been highly changeable, which means periods of high-risk come and go during the day.

"We need to be able to identify when this is happening and respond quickly to avoid fire starts," he said.

Mr Karalus thanks all those who helped control the Parsons Road fire and those who were inconvenienced by the fire and the control operations.

Only about 5 percent of rural fires actually involve plantation forests, he says.