Move to address disaster

Although many in the Wakatipu may be unprepared for a natural disaster, the same cannot be said for residents at Closeburn.

They cannot afford not to be ready if and when disaster - particularly fire - strikes.

On Saturday, about 40 families who live in the "red zone" gathered at Closeburn Station for a barbecue and a chance to speak to emergency services personnel, including representatives from the Department of Conservation, St John, Queenstown police and the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Resident and fire warden Kris Vermeir said he and his family had been living in the area for about eight years and, having been through the 2005 fire, which forced the evacuation of homes, believed days like Saturday were important for every member of the community.

It was about "getting to know the community and just being made aware ... of what you need to be aware of," he said.

"We're 15 minutes' drive to town; it would take a while for anybody to get here.

"It's a good chance to get together and realise what all of these guys are doing for us."

Mr Vermeir said as terrifying as the 2005 event was, it was also a "fantastic exercise" for the residents.

Following that fire, which was started by fireworks, the community made plans to keep themselves and their properties safe.

Measures included evacuation plans, purchasing fire extinguishers, creating fire breaks and educating children.

"We went around the house and said 'if we had an hour to leave ... what do we take with us and what do we leave behind?

'"We've created a plan, I guess, so when the proverbial hits the fan we're ready."

Doc Wakatipu rural fire officer Jamie Cowan said part of the reason behind holding the day was to educate people about a new pager system to provide residents with early notification of any wildfires which might threaten homes and lives.

"In short, if there's a fire in this area, they don't get cellphone reception.

"We currently get on the phone and ring the fire warden in the different centres. It's a very slow system."

Mr Cowan said with the new pager system, any notification in the area made through the 111 system would be forwarded to the pagers, giving people plenty of warning to make decisions.

So far, about 20 pagers had been sold, but Mr Cowan hoped to at least double that.

"There are 120 to 150 homes in total and in the high risk area there are probably about 70.

"The more pagers [out there] the better."

Pagers are available for $258.75 from the supplier, Salcom Technologies.