Mock red zone blaze ex­er­cise


About 200 emer­gency spe­cial­ists have par­tic­i­pated in a red zone fire ex­er­cise in Queen­stown.

Fire and emer­gency ser­vices, the po­lice, Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and the Queen­stown Lakes District Coun­cil have par­tic­i­pated in two four-day ex­er­cises to get them ready for the com­ing sum­mer fire sea­son.

They were work­ing on a sce­nario that there was a fire in Queen­stown’s red zone af­fect­ing hun­dreds of homes, caus­ing two fa­tal­i­ties and evac­u­at­ing about 10,000 peo­ple.

Wild­fire man­age­ment spe­cial­ist Jamie Cowan said Queen­stown had the high­est Red Zone fire risk in the coun­try.

‘‘Given the num­ber of peo­ple who live and recre­ate within the red zone, any fire has the po­ten­tial to threaten life and prop­erty,’’ Cowan said.

The zone in­cluded about 6000ha and hun­dreds of homes in Bobs Cove, Moke Road, Alpine Re­treat, the Sky­line gon­dola and Arthurs Point.

There had been large red zone fires in the past, in­clud­ing the Close­burn fire of 2005, at Seven Mile in 2010, and the Rat­point fire near Glenorchy in Jan­uary this year.

Any veg­e­ta­tion fire call in the area au­to­mat­i­cally puts four he­li­copters on standby, Cowan said.

‘‘Any fires within this zone are treated very se­ri­ously and mul­ti­ple re­sources are pre-iden­ti­fied to re­spond im­me­di­ately.’’

Re­gional man­ager for Fire and Emer­gency Mike Grant said the multi-agency prac­tice was ben­e­fi­cial for all or­gan­i­sa­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing.

‘‘Run­ning these we get to know each other and rub shoul­ders.’’

Winds had a big im­pact on fires, es­pe­cially in the dry sum­mer days, Grant said.

‘‘This time of the year we get a lot of wind events.

‘‘We can get rain one day but if we get wind the next day the veg­e­ta­tion is dried out and we can get some sig­nif­i­cant fire again.’’

To avoid big fires this sum­mer, Grant said peo­ple liv­ing in tree en­vi­ron­ments should be proac­tive.

Sec­tions should be kept tidy, with about 30 me­tres be­tween the house and veg­e­ta­tion, green lawns and no wood stacks by the house.

Res­i­dents should also re­con­sider out­side work with ma­chin­ery to re­duce the risk of ac­ci­den­tal ig­ni­tions and mow lawns early in the morn­ing or late at night to avoid stone strike, he said.

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