The massive Pigeon Valley fire that burned around 2300 hectares near Nelson earlier this year was started by accident, a fire service investigation confirmed this afternoon.
The blaze, one of New Zealand’s largest plantation forest fires on record, was initially sparked by an agricultural contractor discing a rocky paddock on the afternoon of 5 February.
Fanned by southerly winds, the fire spread quickly and would eventually burn commercial plantation forest, property and pastures. It had a final perimeter of 35 kilometres, with a home and shed also lost in the fire.
"This fire proves that, in extreme weather conditions, a seemingly every-day rural activity can end up causing widespread damage," said Ian Reade, Fire and Emergency NZ's principal rural fire officer for the Nelson-Tasman region.
The weather conditions in the area during the six weeks prior to the fire were characterised by little or no rainfall, high temperatures, and often windy conditions.
"It was the proverbial perfect storm,” Mr Reade said.
Mr Reade says the conditions Nelson and Tasman experienced this summer were extreme, but not unique with parts of Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago, Bay of Plenty and Northland - all with similar risks.
“It’s important people take heed of our advice, which focuses on reducing the likelihood of fires starting, and mitigating the potential damage to property if a fire occurs,” Mr Reade said
"There are many simple things people can do to prevent fires starting, from not using machinery which can emit sparks in hot, dry and windy conditions to ensuring electric fences are not in a position or used where they could spark onto dry vegetation.”
Mr Reade advises people to thin out trees and vegetation around their homes or using fire-resistant plants.
"One very simple approach is to create a safety zone around your home, where trees and vegetation have been thinned out, pruned or cleared to create a barrier so the spread of fire towards the home is slowed,” Mr Reade said.
"Steps can also be taken to protect property from a fire, such as removing material near the home that could be ignited by flying embers - for example leaves in gutters, firewood heaps by the house or timber stored under the house."