Wildfires can risk lives, destroy property and devastate natural areas. Wildfires cost millions of dollars and take hundreds of hours to fight.
Summer is an ideal time for tramping, camping or simply enjoying New Zealand's beautiful wild places. But the hot temperatures and dry climate also create a high risk for wildfires.
What to do if you see a wildfire
- Ring 111 immediately if you start or see a wildfire. Don't assume someone else has already done this. Wildfires spread very fast, sometimes up to more than 14 km per hour - this is faster than most people can run.
- If you're in the bush or on a track, leave the area by the quickest route. If you're not positive about the quickest route and if it's safe to do so, go back the way you came.
- Ideally, head into the wind.
- If you're in a campground, go to the signposted Safe Zone.
A helicopter dousing a fire in the Far North
A wildfire rages through Northland bush
Rural firefighters attending a morning briefing at a large vegetation fire on the Pouto Peninsula, Northland
How to prevent wildfires
Check whether you’re allowed to light an outdoors fire every time. This includes campfires, rubbish fires and cooking fires.
If you are allowed to have a fire:
- stay with it until it’s out (put your hand in the fire to make sure it’s out – seriously)
- don't have the fire on a windy day
- make sure there are 3 metres clear around the whole area to be burned and no overhanging plants or trees
- follow permit conditions.
Have fire fighting gear and supplies close by, especially a good water source.
Light fireworks in places well away from other things that can burn (like plants, trees and bush).
Don’t throw away cigarettes.
Effects of a wildfire
Everyone in a wildfire loses. The person found responsible will lose money directly. Everyone else loses money because of the cost to DOC (through taxes) and to councils (through rates). Other services you need get put aside to fight the fire. Public conservation land and the plants and animals that live on it are destroyed.
Wildfires have killed whole populations of animals and plants people have spent years trying to protect.
Kiwi, kukupa, fern birds and hundreds of skinks and geckos have died horribly trying to escape the smoke and flames. Often they’re burnt alive.
Rata, pohutukawa, orchids, flaxes and kauri are among the plants burned to the ground. It takes generations for some to grow to full size, but only minutes to kill them.
Consequences of starting a wildfire
Whether you meant to start it, or it "got away from you", there are consequences. If you’re found responsible for starting a wildfire, especially if you try to hide the fact or pretend you’re not responsible - you pay for it. It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Rural fire organisations have information about how wildfires start and the people who light them. It’s against the law to start a wildfire - every one of them is investigated.
Wildfires have consequences factsheet: