Fire research burns planned at Pukaki Downs Station

For immediate release
19 October 2016

Experimental burns on wilding conifers are being carried out by scientists from Scion and the University of Canterbury and supported by Canterbury rural firefighters, near Twizel this week. The burns were planned for April this year, but had to be postponed due to wet weather.

Starting Tuesday 20 October, the burns are expected to take two or three days depending on weather conditions and fire season restrictions. Fire crews will be on site during the experiments with operations overseen by the South Canterbury Rural Fire Authority. Staff from the Department of Conservation will also be assisting.

Scion senior fire scientist Grant Pearce says the experimental burns will provide data on fire behaviour and smoke dispersion that will enable scientists to develop fire behaviour tools for wilding conifers.

“Wilding conifers have spread over significant areas of the country, and can pose a serious fire hazard to farming communities and conservation lands. This was highlighted back in 2008 by the Mount Cook Station fire which burned through 750 hectares of wildings and grassland.

“There are herbicide spray programmes in place to reduce the number of wildings. We now need to determine how these programmes change the severity of the fire hazard posed by the wildings over time, as they gradually die off and become fuel for the fire.

“This study will provide us with valuable data on wilding fuels that can be used to develop improved fire behaviour models and prediction tools for rural fire managers to support their decision making during fire incidents.”

He added that the fire experiments also provide an opportunity for scientists to gather data on other aspects of rural fire, such as detecting hot spots using UAVs and whether fire can be used as a possible tool to help control wildings.

Mr Pearce says Scion’s fire research team is trained and experienced in undertaking burn experiments, and has conducted over 120 similar burns in different vegetation types over the past 20 years. The closest neighbours to the site lived two kilometres away and had been kept fully informed throughout the planning process. Mr Pearce emphasised that comprehensive safety measures were in place to prevent fire escape including fire breaks, sprinklers around the perimeter of the burn site with a helicopter on stand-by, and that local fire crews would be on site at all times.

Scion’s Rural Fire Research Team is based in Christchurch, and carries out research on fire in New Zealand's forests and rural landscapes. The team focuses on understanding how fires are likely to behave in different weather conditions, terrain and fuel types, and the factors affecting public and firefighter safety that are essential to fire management and prevention. See