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Wildfires or surefire Fires?

- October 2020

In February of 2017, a devastating fire burned approximately 1,647 hectares of land on the Port Hills, near the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. Tragically claiming the life of one firefighter after the monsoon bucket suspension cables struck the tail rotor of the helicopter he was flying; the fire also destroyed nine homes and two other structures. Five other homes were also damaged. It took 66 days before it was declared fully extinguished.

Initially, there were two fires that started on Monday, February 13, but they eventually merged into one. At its peak up to 150 people were on the ground battling the blaze along with 14 helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft. In total, more than 36 agencies were involved in the firefighting effort.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand Chief Executive Rhys Jones says the creation of the organisation in 2017 has allowed a more coordinated response to emergencies.

“Fire and Emergency is a very significant opportunity to get our preparation for, response to, and recovery from emergencies, right,” says Rhys Jones.

“We have made good progress with implementing the Action Plan, and are already responding to incidents in a more coordinated way. Our urban and rural firefighters are training together and with partner organisations on a regular basis. We are trialling community-based approaches to fire risk assessment and prevention, and improving how we communicate with the public during incidents.

Rhys Jones says we are likely to see more fires like the Port Hills in the future.

“New Zealanders need to start thinking like Australians in terms of adapting our lifestyles to take into account the wildfire threat. Climate Change means we will get more extreme conditions, and we all need to be prepared. It’s important now, more than ever, we work together and do everything we can to be prepared,” he says.

Rhys Jones notes implementing a few of the recommendations have been delayed because the fire season began sooner than expected.

“We have prioritised responding to the unprecedented conditions in December when fire risks were very high much earlier in the summer than usual. The need to address the risk of this summer’s fire season means completing some of the actions has been delayed by up to three months."

The wildfire season will begin earlier, late spring/early summer, be more intense and last a lot longer into autumn. Climate Change will not affect everyone, equally - certain landscapes, properties, homes, people, are more at risk than others.

This map was inspired by a similar wildfire map created for California, showing a century of Californian wildfires sliced into 100-square-mile zones for a proportional look at cumulative burn areas, causes, and trends. Located here:

The map I've created uses freely available data located here:

Geography, digital geography has a role to play in the various outcomes of Climate Change, watch this space as new technologies and methodologies evolve in our ever-changing world.

- Matt Couldrey [geoid - digital geography]

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