Saving our forests from the ubiquitous burn-off

FIRE IN THE HILLS: A History of Rural Firefighting in New Zealand <br> <b> Helen Beaglehole </b> <br> <i> Canterbury University PressThere can be no aspect of rural firefighting in this country that Helen Beaglehole has not discussed in this impressively detailed study. The author has mined deeply indeed, serving up minutiae which quite swamps the reader.

Beaglehole writes that she was primarily interested in how New Zealanders dealt with the fires that for decades devastated our countryside, destroying a timber resource, threatening an increasingly valuable investment in plantation forests, and directly or indirectly jeopardising agricultural lands.

The author points out that well into the 20th century, settlers (a term used into the 1950s) turned to fire as the only way of removing the bush that they saw solely as an obstacle to settlement, to clear land for farming and to lay down the ash beds that promoted grass growth.

Yet controlled burn-offs too easily, and too often, became uncontrolled fires that wrought havoc.

From early in the 20th century, the fires in the numerous dry seasons burned over large tracts of country, with devastating effect. For the many small, uninsured landholders, such losses could mean ruin.

As the apposite cover summary states, Beaglehole explores the huge public education campaign that sought to stop the mindless burning.

She traces how the Forest Service used increasingly sophisticated firefighting tools and methods to prevent, contain and extinguish fire.

It was Forest Service employees who became the nation's rural firefighters, their skills further honed in the vast controlled burns of the 1960s-80s.

Also under Beaglehole's microscope is the vital role of some 3000 volunteers and part-timers who fight the country's rural fires.

This is indeed an impressively wide-ranging, scholarly history with meticulously compiled endnotes, bibliography and index.

Two hundred photographs provide icing on the cake.

FIRE IN THE HILLS: A History of Rural Firefighting in New Zealand <br> <b> Helen Beaglehole </b> <br> <i> Canterbury University Press