Wildfire threatens Christchurch, New Zealand

Above: @Howesaman took this photo as she flew in to Christchurch from Wellington.

(UPDATED at 9:05 a.m. MST February 16, 2017)

The wildfire at Christchurch, New Zealand was slowed by light rain Thursday night and more precipitation is in the forecast for Friday.

Officials are reporting that 11 Christchurch homes and two outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire and 2,075 ha (5,127 acres) have burned.

Two fires burned together to become the large fire that spread to the suburbs of Christchurch. One was started by an electrical problem and the other originated at a car park. Officials are not speculating as to whether the causes are suspicious.

Approximately 400 homes have been evacuated affecting about 1,000 residents.


A large wildfire is burning in the suburbs of Christchurch, New Zealand in the Port Hills area. As of Wednesday morning U.S. time it had blackened 4,571 acres (1,850 Ha), destroyed an uncertain number of homes, and required the evacuation of approximately 1,000 residents.

On February 14 a helicopter pilot, David Steven Askin, was killed while working on the fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at nzherald.co.nz:

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel has told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that she was “very worried” for Christchurch.

“We’ve been going through what’s happened overnight, obviously there’s been more evacuations so we’re looking at 450 properties approximately that have been officially evacuated, with police doorknocking and the army in support as well, so it is very serious.”

She said people have been reporting seeing the fire very close to their properties near Port Hills.

“It looks as if up to seven properties have been affected by the fire, it’s difficult to say until light arrives to get a full handle on how many properties that have been destroyed.”

Dalziel said the blaze was a “difficult fire”.

“We had two seperate fires, one that started in the Selwyn district, managed as a significant rural fire, then fire erupted on the city side, ultimately the worst fears were realised and the two fires came together yesterday.

“It is close to areas of population.”

Christchurch Fire map
The red dots on the map of the Christchurch area represent heat detected by a satellite February 15, 2017 U.S. time. Smoke can be seen blowing off toward the east. NASA.

The weather forecast for Christchurch on Thursday (Wednesday U.S. time) predicts cooler temperatures in the high 60s F, relative humidity in the high 40s, and winds out of the east-northeast at 3 to 6 mph in the morning increasing to 16 mph in the afternoon.

In 2011 an earthquake centered 6 miles southeast of Christchurch caused widespread damage in the city and killed 185 people.

“Experts” defend hunter accused of starting fire when bullet struck a rock

A controversy is brewing in New Zealand about the ability of a bullet to start a fire when it strikes a rock. Below is an excerpt from an article at TVNZ.co.NZ:

Experts on fires and firearms are offering to help a Dunedin hunter fight the Otago Rural Fire Authority which is fining him over a bushfire. Tom Dodds has been accused of starting the fire, which he called in, and he’s been charged more than $60,000 by the fire authority for the cost of putting it out.

Seven Sharp reported earlier in the week that the fire investigator believes Mr Dodds’ bullet ricocheted off a rock, bounced 80 metres and hit another rock, which caused the fire 45  minutes later.

The programme reported last night it has received a lot of feedback on the case, including expert opinions from fire and firearms investigators.

One was straight to the point, calling the authority’s version of events impossible. Another, with 40 years experience, had never heard of a bullet causing a fire.

Causing a fire 45 minutes later is difficult to comprehend unless it was smoldering before it was detected.

It is a fact, however, that it is possible for a bullet striking an object to ignite a fire. We covered research on this topic in December, 2013:

…This research shows that fires can be ignited by hot fragments of the bullets due to the heat generated when the kinetic energy of the lead, copper, or steel is transformed to thermal energy by plastic deformation and fracturing from the high-strain rates during impact…

Coincidence or not, on Thursday the National Interagency Fire Center in the U.S. distributed this tweet:

In the New Zealand case, it’s probably not sparks from the rock that created a problem, but hot metal from the bullet itself that may have started the fire. It is possible that when the bullet hit the first rock, hot metal fragments were created which flew 80 meters and landed in flammable material. A second rock may not have played a significant part.

Wildfire News, March 7, 2016

Alaska April wildfire potential
April wildfire potential in Alaska, based on vegetation conditions and weather predictions.

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–A massive bushfire cut off and isolated the South Island town of Hanmer Springs, New Zealand on Tuesday (local time).

–The Arizona Wildfire Academy is taking place in Prescott this week.

Hubbardston, Massachusetts gets military surplus truck to help battle brush fires.

Hubbardston Mass mil surplus truck
Hubbardston, Mass. military surplus truck. Photo: Hubbardston Fire Department.

Firefighters from New Zealand and Australia to assist with wildfires in the U.S.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho is mobilizing firefighters from Australia and New Zealand to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in the western United States. The two countries have been key partners with the U.S. fire community for more than 50 years but were last mobilized in 2008 when heavy fire activity was similar to this year.

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group requested 71 fire managers and specialists.  Although final details of the arrangement are still being worked out, the contingent from Australia and New Zealand is expected to arrive in Boise on August 23 for a one-day induction to learn about current fire behavior, fuels, and weather conditions. Upon completion of the orientation, they will be assigned to large fires.

The request includes 15 Division Supervisors; 15 Task Force/Strike Team Leaders; 15 Helicopter Managers; 10 Heavy Equipment Bosses; 10 Safety Officers; 4 Regional Liaison Officers; and two National Liaison Officers.  Fifteen of the total are from New Zealand. Assistance from Australia and New Zealand is a good fit primarily because their fire organizations are very similar to the United States national fire organization in training requirements and structure.

New Zealand: wildfire at military rifle range

New Zealand Rifle Range fire
A helicopter drops water near personnel at fire at a New Zealand Rifle Range. Screen grab from the video.

A grenade is the suspected cause of a fire that began at a New Zealand Defence Force rifle range near West Melton on Wednesday. The military was conducting a grenade exercise when the fire started on a warm, dry day with very strong winds. In the video below, which shows helicopters dropping on the fire, the winds appear to be blowing at 20 to 25 mph, at least. In spite of the winds and the rapidly moving fire, you can see a group of 10 to 15 people engaged in some type of activity very close to the fire, which burned 50 hectares (123 acres).

On Tuesday another fire was started by military personnel near Waiouru. In that case it was Singaporean soldiers using live ammunition during a training exercise. It was contained Tuesday night after burning 350 hectares (864 acres) of brush.

Researchers study fire history in New Zealand and Tasmania

A new series of four short films helps citizens of the Rocky Mountain West understand how scientists study the impact of fire on ecosystems.

The films document a National Science Foundation-funded project called Wildfire PIRE – http://wildfirepire.org – an international partnership among Montana State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Idaho, the University of Tasmania (Australia) and the University of Auckland (New Zealand) along with other universities and agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. first traveled to Tasmania and New Zealand to collect data on the impacts of wildfire. Using tree ring cores and columns of mud drawn from lakes, the researchers can piece together the history of fire in different landscapes.

The data from the Southern Hemisphere will also help researchers make predictions about the impacts of fire in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

David Bowman
David Bowman, PhD

One of the four films is titled The (un)Luck of the Draw: Understanding Bushfire in Tasmania, and discusses how the disastrous fires of 1967, referred to as the Black Tuesday Bushfires, affected this island south of the Australian mainland (map). They were the most deadly fires that Tasmania has ever experienced, leaving 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless within the space of five hours. They followed a very wet spring which produced a great deal of new vegetation growth. Then on a dry, windy February day, dozens of controlled burns, or “burn offs” were fanned into life, along with some other accidental ignitions, burning 2,640 square kilometers (652,360 acres).

In the video, David Bosman, PhD, from the University of Tasmania talks about the 1967 Black Tuesday Bushfires and the fact that it could happen again. Here is a portion of what he says in the film.

…When you know that 1967 happened, and you can see the legacy of it, and you know the terror and the shock it did to this community, and then you know a lot about fire as I do, and you see it’s very, very vulnerable, it’s basically surrounded by flammable bushland.

I’m afraid, and I’m surprised at how afraid I am.

In the deck there’s a card called 1967 Or Worse, and one day the card’s going to be dealt.

The scary thing is we don’t know how often these cards are in the deck. If we get something ’67 or worse, we could burn a quarter of the island down in three hours, and that means thousands of people will die. And I’m afraid of that.

You have to wonder… is there a deck of cards for the northwest United States with one of the cards called “1910 Or Worse”?

The other three films in the series can be found HERE.