By Debbie Bidlake, Federated Farmers senior policy advisor
The east coast has a lot of forestry and scrub. Both are highly flammable. Fire Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) doesn’t talk about if there will be a big fire in Gisborne, they talk about when – and their inability to control that fire once it takes off.
FENZ staff and landowners are horrified at Gisborne District Council plans to reduce maintenance on some local roads. Fire trucks are bigger now and require decent roads to provide emergency services, and to evacuate people and stock. FENZ is also concerned that less road maintenance might also mean less road-side vegetation clearance, increasing the risk of scrub fires (and no doubt increasing farm insurance premiums).
A recent NIWA report indicates that this century Tairawhiti is likely to experience 20-60 extra heatwave days per year, and some of the largest reductions in rainfall across the country. In other words, fire risk will increase in coming years.
Federated Farmers urges the Council to integrate fire risk into all planning documents and decisions as it does with flooding and sea level rise. We also encourage Council to include fire risk mitigation measures in consent conditions, and monitor and enforce those conditions, particularly for highly flammable forestry blocks.
FENZ’s draft Fire Plan for Tairāwhiti, Ngā Tai ki te Puku, is worth a read as it identifies the main fire risks and at-risk areas in the region (Anaura Bay and Donneraille Park in particular). The plan does not discuss fire response, nor community resilience strategies. This is largely left up to you, your community, and the Council.
Do you know the main fire risks on your property? Do you and your family have an escape plan? Federated Farmers recommends you work through the FENZ farm fire safety checklist (or urban equivalent if you live in town). We also encourage you to contact your local fire station to book a free fire safety assessments of your home (complete with free smoke alarm installation).
Finally, it might surprise you to know that Gisborne has a “Local Advisory Committee”. The Committee was created a year ago and its role is to, among other things, help build community resilience, and provide local insight to FENZ on reducing fire risk. This is important work that could save lives. Federated Farmers looks forward to working more closely with the Committee for the benefit of rural communities.