At a public meeting held recently in Darfield, evacuations caused by a fire in McHugh’s Forest were discussed. The meeting facilitated by FENZ (Fire and Emergency New Zealand) and supported by Selwyn District Council took place on February 20th, in the Darfield Recreation Centre.
FENZ has identified McHugh’s Forest Park as an area of potential fire risk due to its close proximity to residential properties and businesses in Darfield and the abundance of fuels. The risk would be greatly increased during periods of high wind, that could transport embers ahead of the main fire causing spot fires in the township.
Those attending were handed a draft information sheet showing Darfield divided into two zones. Zone One, surrounding McHugh’s and taking in part of Landsborough, Horndon Street to Maxwell Street and the southern side of State Highway 73 down Bangor Road until approximately Piako Drive. Zone Two begins at the edge of Zone One and extends eastward to Kimberley Road and down Horndon Street to Jackson Street. Should the Forest ignite those in Zone One would be told to ‘Evacuate Now’, those in Zone Two would be placed on standby, followed by an evacuation order if needed. It was pointed out that the evacuation area could be extended beyond zones one and two depending on the continued fire risk. A large amount of smoke from the fire is possible and residents should self-evacuate if they felt unsafe, or unwell.
For any residents evacuated that can’t find shelter with friends or family outside the evacuation zone, emergency centres would be established at the Kirwee Community Hall and Glentunnel Community Centre.
FENZ recommends that everyone knows their evacuation route and takes time to make a plan for how they would evacuate. This could include having essential items ready to go and making a plan for pets and animals.
Fires can start for a number of reasons FENZ delivered some helpful tips for home and business owners at the meeting:
- Regular maintenance of vehicles and machinery – check for birds’ nests before starting up – some birds can build a nest within an hour. Use approved exhaust and spark arrester systems and keep a fire extinguisher in the vehicle.
- Green breaks, low flammability plants – short or green lawns can reduce the impact of fire on a dwelling. Consider alternatives to bark and wooden mulch around the outside of the house. Installation of sprinklers and irrigation around a residence can help reduce a fire’s impact. Keep under decks and gutters clear of dry vegetation. If having to evacuate – drop a tennis ball in the downpipe and fill gutters with water – may assist if an ember were to fall.
- Have pets ready to go if the evacuation order is given. Ensure enough food and water is taken, plus leash, cage, muzzle or medication. Livestock are trickier – if required to stay in the paddock – open internal gates while keeping external ones closed.
- In houses – ensure there are working smoke alarms, have an escape plan that everyone in the family knows and practise it regularly. Clean chimneys at least once a year and dispose of hot ashes by putting into a metal bucket and leaving there for at least five days.