Canterbury firefighters deliberately light 80-hectare blaze for research

Firefighters in Canterbury have spent the day lighting fires, instead of putting them out.

As part of research into rural fire science, 80 hectares of gorse went up in flames at the Rakaia Gorge with researchers using fire behaviour sensors and drones to monitor it.

"[We want] to collect data on fire behaviour in these gorse scrub fields so that we can improve the models we have on predicting how fast fires spread, how big the flames are, how hot the fires are," says Scion Rural Fire research scientist Grant Pearce. 

This blaze is one of six being studied by fire experts from around the world.

"These are probably some of the most heavily-instrumented research burns the world's ever seen," says Fire and Emergency New Zealand integrated risk manager Darrin Woods.

Each year 3000 wildfires burn across 6000 hectares of land in New Zealand - costing more than a $100 million.

Some of the worst recently include the Tasman fires last year near Nelson and the Port Hills fires in 2017.

"Usually at a wildfire they're really busy putting the fire out so for them to be able to stand around and watch and see the fire behaviour and talk to the researchers and understand the fire behaviour is really helpful," Pearce says.

Next crews will be setting wilding pines alight - watching and learning how to predict and stop wildfires quickly in their tracks.