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Marlborough Kaikoura’s Principal Rural Fire Office Richard McNamara wants to build a ‘prevention culture’ into fire safety attitudes in Marlborough; one of the hottest, driest parts of the country.
“There is a good understanding here of the impact of fire and we have some great teams of volunteer fire fighters across the region. But it is easy for a community to get a bit blasé about fire safety,” he said.
The last big fire in the Marlborough-Kaikoura region was the dramatic Boxing Day Fire which swept across the foothills of the Withers on the edge of Blenheim in 2000 burning off almost 7000ha of grassland.
This summer has the potential to be another hot, dry season, says Mr McNamara, with temperatures forecast to be average, or maybe even higher than average.
“There’s a bit of uncertainty about the climate but spring usually brings hot dry winds here and that’s the kind of weather that firemen hate. So we’re asking people to think about fire safety – and it’s a particularly important message for people who live outside the urban area,” he said.
He says people living on rural properties need to face the fact that it takes emergency services longer to reach their properties in the event of fire.
“Distance means a house fire in the country can have disastrous consequences, especially if no one is around when it begins. Serious damage or even total loss is a far more likely outcome for a rural house fire unless property owners have taken all possible steps to minimise fire risk.”
The NZ Rural Fire Authority’s FireSmart Manual has a good checklist which every country property owner should consult.
He stresses the importance of ensuring properties are easily accessible to appliances.
“Low hanging trees or parked vehicles make it very difficult to get a 10-tonne tanker up a narrow driveway,” he said.
Smoke alarms are absolutely essential but he also urges anyone building a new house in the country to seriously consider installing a sprinkler system.
“For about $350 per sprinkler head (a typical 3 bedroom home would require perhaps 12 sprinklers) you get a fire fighter in every room.”
With summer weather not far away, Mr McNamara says anyone with dry vegetation piles to burn should be getting on with the job – before fire bans come into force. In most parts of the rural Marlborough-Kaikoura region, fires are still able to be lit although fire permits are required in some areas; check with your local Council to see if a permit is required.
Fire permits are free and available through the Marlborough Kaikoura Rural Fire Authority’s Permit system. Ph (03) 520 7400; Fax (03) 520 7496; Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr McNamara says it makes good sense to minimise all fire risk factors now, before the heat of summer.
“Every time the siren goes off it suggests we have had a failure – a fire which someone could have prevented.”