Warning fire season could last longer with El Niño on way

Fire season is on its way, and this year it could start earlier and finish later. 

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) is warning that with El Niño on its way it's not too early to start preparing. 

The vibrancy of spring is a product of a wet winter - but it only takes mere weeks for this lush new growth to turn into fuel. 

"Warmer temperatures, drier conditions around the country, particularly in eastern areas, could lead to higher fire risk conditions," warned FENZ service delivery national wildfire manager Tim Mitchell. 

Fire season may be the last thing on your mind, but FENZ said, right now, it should be the first. 

"The season could come in a little earlier than normal and could last a little bit longer," Mitchell said. 

Fire season could look a little different to the last few years with El Niño arriving in the next few weeks. 

"Because we are expecting a drier than normal spring for much of the country and pretty windy conditions, we're expecting a particularly windy spring," said NIWA meteorologist Chris Brandalino. 

"I think spring is inherently windy anyway but we're talking windier than usual so as we work our way into the middle and second half of September, I think that'll be a pivot point or turning point, especially for the South Island. 

"So, if you have drier than normal conditions, if you have windier than normal conditions obviously if there's a fire that's not a good set-up." 

The wildfires in Maui are a sobering reminder of what can happen. 

"I think that's a wake-up call," said Mitchell. "Wildfires can happen anywhere and everywhere that's why people need to be prepared." 

Farmers are on high alert, too. 

"The signals are that El Niño is going to be reasonably strong which means we could have drought conditions later into the season or summer, so that is a concern for growers and farmers," Fed Farmers arable chair David Birkett said. 

FENZ said 98 percent of wildfires are started by people. But there are things you can do to stop them spreading, such as keeping on top of vegetation and grass, clearing gutters and moving the winter wood pile away from the house. 

"Luck favours the prepared so if you're a farmer right now or maybe you rely on tank water, think about what you need to do when dryness kicks in," Brandalino said. 

Especially in the north where a drying trend has already begun.