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.