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Fire risk: Don't go down to the woods today

18 February 2015                         

With the risk of forest fire now very high or extreme in many parts of the country, the public is being cautioned not to enter plantation forests without permission.

"Forest owners have stopped working in drought-affected forests or are limiting work hours to avoid the heat of the day when the fire risk is highest," says Forest Owners Association fire committee chair Grant Dodson.

"Where crews are working in these forests, they follow strict procedures to minimise the fire risk. Also, after they leave the site for the day, someone stays behind to make sure there is no spark smouldering away that could become a fire.

"Everyone knows that cigarette butts and sparks from cookers are a fire risk. But when things are tinder dry, fires can be triggered by less obvious things, like a spark from a chainsaw or firearm or the heat of a vehicle exhaust.

"It is not a time for hunters, trailbike riders, firewood collectors and other recreational users to be in forests. All forests should be treated as being off-limits until the drought has broken."

Everyone planning on entering a forest in a drought region should check each time with the forest owner or manager before doing so, he says. Even if they think they have a right of access.

"Forest fires can spread rapidly, cause severe damage to property and put lives at risk. Also the costs of fighting rural fires are sheeted home to the landowner where the fire started. If a trespasser in a forest is found to have caused the fire, the cost will be sheeted home to them."

Mr Dodson says that in most regions there is a total fire ban. This means lighting any fire no matter how small is prohibited. If a fire is noticed, it should be reported immediately by dialling 111.

There have been several major fires this summer in forest plantations. These, he says, are being formally investigated by the Rural Fire Service.

"In virtually all cases, forest fires are caused deliberately or accidentally by human activity. Contrary to the views expressed by some commentators, forests and forest waste do not catch fire spontaneously."

For more information, ring Grant Dodson Tel 027 654 6554, or Glen Mackie, FOA Technical Manager, Tel 027 445 0116