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A comparison of 2019 Pigeon Valley Forest fire with similar events in the past

Authors: Murray Dudfield, Geoff Cameron, Jim Carle, Kerry Ellem, Peter Hill
Publication: New Zealand Journal of Forestry, Volume N.Z.J.For. 2019, Issue N.Z.J.For. 64(4) 2020, pp 3-10, Jan 2020
Publisher: New Zealand Institute of Forestry

Abstract: As the most expensive fire in the history of New Zealand vegetation fires, the February 2019 Pigeon Valley wildfire has also been claimed by some to be the most destructive plantation fire in the past 60 years. This paper reviews data from other forest fires to show that the fire environment in the first five days of this fire does not warrant this characterisation. The paper also reviews the use of fire weather information (both forecast and actual) in some of the key decisions made in containing the fire. The 5 February 2019 Pigeon Valley fire involved losses of more than 2,300 ha of forested lands located 30 km south-west of Nelson. It involved the deployment of resources from many parts of New Zealand, the construction of a firebreak external to the plantation, and the evacuation of people from communities to the southeast of the wild fire. The fire weather data for the days following the first 18 hour period of the fire is assessed. A conclusion is reached on the potential of the fire to spread beyond the plantation lands and into open lands on the southeastern edge which questions whether these decisions were warranted. The main conclusions reached in this paper include recommendations relating to the availability of forest fire behaviour specialists, comparisons with other similar forest fires, clarification to define when wildfire incidents become civil defence emergencies, the effectiveness of aircraft, and the need for an Independent Commission of Inquiry to be established by the Government to investigate the actions taken to manage the Pigeon Valley wildfire.