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Reducing the risk of wildfires

The risk of wildfires within the Mackenzie District.

Wildfire Risk Reduction

Wildfire Risk Reduction Programme

We are undertaking a programme of works around the Mackenzie District to help reduce the risk of wildfire threatening residents and visitors to the area. The details below list stages of our programme, and approximate timelines.


Controlled Fire Experiments near Twizel

Timeline: Complete.

North West Arch Limbing of Conifers in the Reserve

What: The North West Arch Reserve has a number of wilding conifers which are increasing the risk to residents and visitors to Twizel. Long-term we aim to remove these wildings. In the short-term, limbs will be removed by qualified arborists, lifting branches off of the ground. This is a commonly used technique to reduce the chance of fire spreading into tree canopies.

Timeline: TBC

North West Arch Mowing of the Firebreak & Reserve

What: Contractors have been gradually removing rocks and tidying up the North West Arch Reserve allowing for a mow of the entire area. The mow aims to reduce fuel loading and to slow the spread of both wildings and wildfire through the area.

Timeline: Twice through summer

Lake Tekapo:

The Hamilton Drive Firebreak

What: The cutting of an 8m wide firebreak. This will be mown and maintained in future years, allowing for emergency vehicle access and mitigation of risk associated with wildfire spreading into the Lake Tekapo township from the plantations behind Hamilton Drive/Murray Place.

Timeline: Complete

Selective Tree Removal & Pruning on the Hamilton Drive/Murray Place Firebreak

What: Selective tree removals will occur along the Hamilton Drive/Murry Place firebreak, focussing on removing wilding species, and trees deemed too close to property boundaries which increase the amount of fuel in the area, and the risk posed to residents.

Contractors will leave all of the oak trees and have been instructed to leave larch and eucalyptus trees where it is safe to do so. These tree species have a greater amenity value than the wilding species, they support bird life, provide shelter to properties, and pose a lower risk of becoming a potentially problematic wilding trees.

The trees that are going to remain will be pruned/ have limbs removed by qualified arborists, lifting branches off the ground. This is a commonly used technique to reduce the chance of fire spreading into tree canopies. They will  also thin tree coverage where required.

This tree work aims to increase the size of the buffer provided by the recently installed fire break and mitigate the risk of wildfire facing Lake Tekapo’s visitors, residents and properties.

Timeline: Complete.

South Eastern & South Western Banks of the Tekapo River:

What: Forestry containing Corsican Pine and Pinus contorta were identified for removal on the South Eastern & South Western banks of the Tekapo River below the weir. These blocks of trees pose a significant fire risk to the Lake Tekapo township. These pine species are highly invasive and are the seed source of a substantial number of wildings pines downstream. A multi-agency operation, will be undertaken to remove these wilding conifers, the subsequent areas will be left to regenerate in native grasslands to prevent erosion.

Timeline: TBC

Hamilton Drive & Lochinvar Scrub Clearing

What: Work will take place to remove broom and forestry slash left between the Hamilton Drive and Lochinvar subdivisions. Once removed, we hope to bring this area up to a standard able to be mown in future years, reducing the fire risk to residents.

Status/Timeline: Some work has started on this, and we are aiming to complete it in late 2023.

Timeline: TBC

Removal of Residential Green Waste

What: Over a period of time green waste has been dumped over residential fences into  the adjacent Council land. As part of this programme of works Council contractors undertook a one-time removal of such waste from the  firebreak.

All residents are asked to use their Council-provided green bins and take any excess green waste to their local Transfer Station. There is one of these in Twizel, Fairlie or Tekapo. For further information or hours, click here.

Excess Green Waste on your land or dumped over your fence increases the available fuel to feed a wildfire, increasing its intensity and making it more likely to damage to your property. People caught dumping waste on Council land, or “fly dumping” will be prosecuted accordingly.

Timeline: Complete

Further information

The dry, windy climate, the natural vegetation and the topography (the lie of the land) all combined to make wildfire an ever-present hazard for the Lake Tekapo community. There have been 58 recorded vegetation fires in this area since 2011.

The wildfires at Lake Pukaki and Lake Ōhau in October 2020 remind us how quickly fire can spread and how devastating it can be. In November 2022, a wildfire occurred at Power House Road, Tekapo, close to township and power station.

Wildfires can occur at any time of year, though they are most common in spring, summer and autumn.

Acting now will reduce the risk to you and the risk to our community.

Fire and Emergency is working with the Mackenzie District Council, Environment Canterbury and the Department of Conservation to reduce the risk of wildfires being started by human activities and to limit the opportunities for fires to spread, so that our whole community is safer.

You can take simple steps to reduce the threat of wildfire to your household, your home and our wider community.

Create a safety zone  (also called defensible space) around your home - Here’s how.

Quick wins

  • Keep the grass short around your home, including the garage, garden shed and other buildings
  • Clean out your gutters to remove dead leaves, debris and pine needles.
  • Clear the area around your deck of dead leaves, debris and other material that will burn easily
  • Move your firewood stack off the deck and at least 10 metres away from the house
  • Remove highly flammable plants close to your house and other buildings. You might be surprised how quickly some common plants will burn compared to others. There is a list of moderately and highly flammable species here and a video demonstrating the difference when they burn here.
  • Remove branches of trees overhanging your home and outbuildings
  • Make sure the access to your property, including your gateway and drive, is at least 4 metres wide and 4 metres high so emergency vehicles can reach you.

Put on the list for the next long weekend

  • Enclose the spaces under your home, such as the edge of your deck or the gap between wallboards and the ground, where embers could blow in and set fire to your house.
  • Check any wooden fences around your property, and replace any sections that are joined to the house. If the fence catches fire it can set your house alight too.
  • Plant low flammability species on your property. Fire and Emergency has suggestions to get you started. Find out more here including a list of low flammability species, watch this short video. You can also get advice from your local nursery about which low flammability plants will thrive in the Lake Tekapo environment.

Check the Wildfire Safer Housing Guide for more advice and suggestions.

Wildfires are unwanted, uncontrolled fires occurring where vegetation will burn readily. They often move rapidly across the landscape destroying life, property and the environment. Hotter, drier and windier conditions are all factors that increase the risk and likelihood of wildfire occurring, and its intensity. Climate change will increase the risk of wildfires starting and the way in which they behave.

There are around 5000 wildfires in New Zealand every year. Only 2% of wildfires in New Zealand are started by natural causes such as lightning strike. The rest are caused by human activity.

Most are brought under control quickly but in extreme cases, wildfires can last for days or months.

While you are taking steps to reduce the fire risk on your own property, Mackenzie District Council and Environment Canterbury are doing extra work on the land they manage as well. Here are some examples:

Mackenzie District Council is putting more resources into creating and maintaining firebreaks; pruning the lower branches of trees in council reserves and public spaces to reduce their ability to catch fire; planting lower flammability species and increasing the removal of wilding species where possible.MDC Logo 
Environment Canterbury is improving the evacuation route from the NZMCA Camping Ground in the regional park and trimming vegetation from roadsides to improve access for emergency vehicles.Environment Canterbury 
Fire and Emergency is leading the effort to support property owners and residents like you to understand the risks from wildfire, take action to reduce hazards around your homes, and be better prepared.Fire Emergency New Zealand