Wildfire crosses State Highway 25, leading to closure of the road between Whangamata and Hikuai. Photo: Thames Coromandel District Council

We could be in for a hellish wildfire season. Are New Zealanders prepared? 

Summer’s around the corner and so is the height of the fire season … it’s time to look at how prepared we are.

In today’s podcast, The Detail’s Jessie Chiang talks to Grant Pearce from Scion Rural Fire Research about the growing fire risk in New Zealand.

“It’s not a problem that’s just prone to the more remote, rural areas. Increasingly we’re seeing these fires involving homes and also large numbers of people being affected and being evacuated,” he says.

And they’re starting earlier – as early as the end of winter.

In August this year, 3000 hectares of vegetation around Lake Pukaki went up in smoke.

And last month, more than 5000ha around Lake Ohau were also destroyed – including nearly 50 buildings.

Pearce talks about the $100 million New Zealand spends on cleaning up the wreck left behind by fires, and just how much of it is caused by climate change.

“I think if you talk to most fire managers and fire researchers internationally, we would say [it’s] a global problem … the focus for probably too long has been on responding to fires,” he says.

“[We need] to shift the focus to how do we prevent these fires from occurring and how do we minimise the impacts of these fires when they do occur?”

Pearce also runs through what individual property owners can do to better protect their homes – including looking at design layout, safe storage and plant species.

The Detail also speaks to David Schiel, a marine scientist at Canterbury University who recalls driving through his Port Hills property during the 2017 fire.

“There was nothing but blackness, there was no vegetation. Everything that was still standing above ground was on fire,” he says.

Schiel talks about the nights with little sleep that followed, the community that banded together and the long road to recovery.

“It’s hard … when you’ve lost 20 years of planting. It’s a bit of work and some things get put on the back burner.”

For the full story, listen to the full podcast above.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Jessie Chiang is the associate producer of The Detail podcast.

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