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Orange, yellow, red: What the fire danger signs mean and how to use them

The arrows on fire danger signs around the country are starting to be turned to yellow, orange and even red in some parts.

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But many Kiwis are unaware of what the levels actually means, Kaitlin Ruddock reports. Source: 1 NEWS

But despite the heightened awareness of destructive fires, many New Zealanders are unsure what the risk levels mean and what changes they should make to prevent endangering themselves and others.

Put simply, Nelson Tasman principal rural fire officer Ian Reade explains the signs are "an indicator of how easy it is for a fire to start and the likely damage it will cause if it does start".

"As that needle increases in colours and goes from yellow to orange to red, we go from a situation where we could relatively easily control a fire through to it being uncontrollable," he told 1 NEWS.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has found many New Zealanders don't understand the risks associated with some common activities, like cooking outdoors or maintaining the lawns.

1 NEWS and Fire and Emergency asked people whether they knew how to read fire danger signs and if that changed what they did over summer.

A French visitor said he wasn't sure what the difference was "between high and very high or extreme" and what that would mean for starting a campfire. 

A Tasman local said she was familiar with the signs and believed they raised awareness of how to be fire safe, "but the stages I'm not so sure about really".

The advice is that it's okay to fire up the barbecue in low to moderate conditions, but Mr Reade says things change when the danger becomes high.

"You wouldn't set it up in some dry vegetation or dry grass. So you'd look for bare earth patch or some bare sand or gravel," he says.

When the fire danger is high or very high, people should only cut their lawns first thing in the morning when the humidity is higher and the temperature lower. 

"Don't mow between 11am to 6pm and avoid windy days," says Mr Reade.

When the danger is extreme, it's often best to avoid doing it all.

"Once you get up to 70 per cent dead or dried out, sparks will start fires in that grass," he explains.

And this might be the time of the year to cool off, but it comes with a warning.

"Once we start getting past high and up into very high and extreme, be very careful where you park your vehicle. Because vehicle exhausts, in some of the later models, with some of the emissions controls, can burn very hot out of the exhaust pipes.

"So parking in long grass or driving in long grass, for instance, can start fires."

Fire and Emergency want people to check the signs and website as they would the weather forecast and think before firing up.