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Fires and Hazardous Substances in Hawke's Bay

Fire can destroy homes, property, crops, livestock and native wildlife and bush, while hazardous substances can be a huge risk to human health and the environment. Up to date weather forecasts will determine fire danger but both hazards require people to be aware, take care and provide early alerts.

What warning will there be?

News outlets and often signs in our towns will alert people to the fire risk. The fire weather index system provides up-to-date weather information about fire danger.

How do I get prepared?

Fire

  • Install smoke alarms, and if possible home sprinklers.
  • Reduce the fire risk around your property - irrigate areas around buildings, remove dead vegetation, clean roofs and gutters, trim and thin trees, plant low flammability tree species, and avoid build-up of rubbish.
  • Before you light a fire, check if any fire restrictions are in place in your district.
  • Seek advice on any safety issues to do with any fire you may want to light in the open air, eg burn offs, tree cullings etc.

Hazardous substances

  • If you use hazardous substances you should identify and name all chemicals.
  • Get advice on correct and safe storage, and know how chemicals will react and handle them accordingly.
  • Carefully and appropriately dispose of old supplies and chemicals that cannot be identified.  There are commercial hazardous material collection and disposal services such as 3R.

In rural areas consider:

  • Fire breaks -Mow and graze grass along boundaries and near buildings, roads, railways, public areas and forests to limit potential fire spread.
  • Fire truck vehicle access – Check that urban and rural fire trucks can get access.  Vehicles are 3m high by 3mwide and weigh 14 tonnes. Can these fit through your gate? Get down your driveway? Have quick access to building locations and water points?
  • Water supplies -  To fight a fire, Fire Emergency NZ teams need a minimum of 45,000 litres of water. This may be in tanks or in ponds, dams, or swimming pools on your property. If you have a pressurised well, fit a coupling that fire fighters can use to connect directly into as this will save time.
  • Water points - Signposted these clearly and make sure there’s good vehicle access, plus a turning area for a water tanker.
  • Property identification – Can the fire truck find you with no hassle?  Display your rural RAPID number clearly at your gate or letterbox to ensure easy identification for emergency services.

Learn more at www.fire.org.nz or Get Fire Wise.

What to do when it happens and after?

If you discover a fire, learn the exact location, with RAPID number if available, and the nature of the fire, and then phone 111 and ask for Fire (you will be asked for the location information). The major benefit of RAPID (Rural Address Property Identification System) numbering is that is saves time locating rural properties and occupants in an emergency.

When reporting a fire, especially in rural areas, describe the best access to the fire to the operator and have someone out on the road to direct fire trucks, or use a parked vehicle with hazard lights activated as a marker.

Remember early intervention is critical in all fires, most start small and escalate, events caught early with appropriate responses will be easier to control or contain. The Fire & Emergency New Zealand relies on people letting them know immediately things go wrong, calling them as soon as incidents are noticed.

 

Urban fires

Fires in town can be caused maliciously, by accident, or as the result of an unforeseen ignition for example by an electrical, mechanical, or chemical process. Fires may also result of a natural cause such as earthquakes or lightning.

As Hawke’s Bay has a hot, Mediterranean-style climate, the region experiences days of extreme fire danger every summer and large fires have been recorded. In such conditions, it is possible to have a large number of fires occur in a short period over a wide suburban area, so that all Fire Service resources are fully committed in preventing fires spreading and destroying homes.

Most house fires occur in the kitchen due to carelessness, such as unattended cooking or rubbish fires left unattended (which spread to vegetation and ultimately to property). Another problem is urban areas are often located close to manufacturing, horticultural production, food processing industries with factories and cool stores which could become large fires as they can have flammable chemicals stored.

Rural wildfire

These are unplanned fires - grass fires, native and exotic forest fires and scrub fires.   During dry periods or drought, the risk of rural wildfires increases. The fires can cause loss or damage to property and the possible loss of life, or serious injury to fire-fighters or people caught in the way of the fire. 

Wildfires may be small or very extensive and tend to occur at the same time as a weather pattern moves from west to east. Hawke’s Bay experiences days of extreme fire danger every summer, as the region has the second highest annual average summer temperature in New Zealand (average of 24°C). 

Fires can begin many ways.  Human factors can be - careless disposal of cigarettes; carbon soot emissions from vehicle exhausts, chimneys or incinerators; stone strike from mowers or machinery; electrical supply lines which carry the risk of arcing of power lines; train movements; and petrol tankers using our roads.  Natural factors can be - lightning strikes, spontaneous combustion of chemicals or damp harvested crops (overheating in bails).

Hazardous Substances

In Hawke’s Bay there are many industrial and commercial businesses such as cool stores, canneries, freezing plants and manufacturers that use hazardous substances in their day-to-day business. 

A hazardous substance is any substance that may be explosive, flammable, able to oxidise, corrosive, toxic or eco-toxic.  An explosion or fire in one of these industrial and commercial areas poses serious risks to the people fighting the fire, as well as people nearby due to the burning or release (by air, ground or water) of a mix of hazardous substances.

The results would be the destruction of property, damaged water courses and water supplies, a number of people killed, people requiring hospital care for burns or lung injuries, and the evacuation of the surround area for safety reasons until the fire is brought under control.

 

fire

 

 

The charred remains of VJ’s storage facility in 2006 where the fire was so hot that it melted concrete. Photo courtesy of HB Today

History

There have been numerous large fires in Hawke’s Bay in the past. Here are some of Hawke's Bay's most significant events.

Urban Fires

There have been numerous large urban fires in Hawke’s Bay in the past.  

February 1931 – following the earthquake, the worst urban fire in the history of Hawke’s Bay engulfed the damaged areas of Napier, leaving only a few recently built reinforced concrete buildings standing.  Because the water supply was lost in Napier there was little that firemen could do, whereas in Hastings, the water supply remained intact and fires could bee contained.

There have been many urban fires since.  A massive fire broke out on 18 January 2012 which destroyed a fruit packaging factory and forced the evacuations of nearby homes. The blaze broke out around 9pm at Hawk Packaging on Tomoana Road, Hastings and burned for 200 metres. Flames could be seen from Napier. More than 80 firefighters, from as far away as Palmerston North, Dannevirke and Woodville responded to the callout. Firefighters were able to prevent the fire spreading into the adjoining industrial estate and protected homes, but in a fire this size, there are considerable risks of large amount of hot embers being airborne and spreading the damage.

Rural Fires

There have been numerous large rural fires in Hawke’s Bay and every year Fire & Emergency NZ is required to fight large rural fires.

1896 - A bush fire was spread by strong winds across several farms in the Hampden-Onga Onga Road area in Central Hawke’s Bay. Local residents at the time described the sight at night as “indescribably grand, hills and flats one glowing mass of fire as far as the eye could see, a veritable fiery furnace”. 

October 2005 The owner of a Hawke’s Bay forest that was set alight after a burn-off, found himself with a $60,000 bill.  At the height of the fire, in a pine plantation near Puketapu, three helicopters with monsoon buckets attacked the fire from the air as about 60 people toiled to bring the fire under control.

Hazardous Substances

The more serious fires in Hawke’s Bay involving hazardous substances have only evolved as technology has developed and the region has grown industrially. 

1931 Following the earthquake on the 3 February, the first fires starting in Emerson Street, Napier involved hazardous substances. They began in three chemist shops with gas jets that started fires after the earthquake and were fuelled by inflammable stocks such as chloroform and collodion, phosphorous, and oils like paraffin and olive.

There have been numerous hazardous substances fires since.

Saturday 4 March 2006 The most recent notable event was a large fire at VJ Distributors Limited in Hastings. About 70 homes were evacuated because of toxic smoke from the fire which was fuelled by oil (about 200,000 litres stored on site) and cleaning products stored in bulk containers in a warehouse. The warehouse was completely destroyed, five houses were damaged and a number of houses downwind were covered in oil smoke. Some people sought medical advice for minor respiratory irritation, but no long term effects have been reported.

 

 

 
 

 

Saturday 4 March 2006 The most recent notable event was a large fire at VJ Distributors Limited in Hastings. About 70 homes were evacuated because of toxic smoke from the fire which was fuelled by oil (about 200,000 litres stored on site) and cleaning products stored in bulk containers in a warehouse. The warehouse was completely destroyed, five houses were damaged and a number of houses downwind were covered in oil smoke. Some people sought medical advice for minor respiratory irritation, but no long term effects have been reported.

October 2005 The owner of a Hawke’s Bay forest that was set alight after a burn-off, found himself with a $60,000 bill.  At the height of the fire, in a pine plantation near Puketapu, three helicopters with monsoon buckets attacked the fire from the air as about 60 people toiled to bring the fire under control.

 

A bush fire was spread by strong winds across several farms in the Hampden-Onga Onga Road area in Central Hawke’s Bay. Local residents at the time described the sight at night as “indescribably grand, hills and flats one glowing mass of fire as far as the eye could see, a veritable fiery furnace”.

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