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Helicopters working at the scene of the Clarence Valley fire. Photo: Fire and Emergency NZ
Helicopters working at the scene of the Clarence Valley fire. Photo: Fire and Emergency NZ
An increasing number of severe fires has forced Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) to expand its aerial firefighting budget by more than $3 million.

Several major fires requiring intensive firefighting efforts from the air meant the initial $6.7 million budget set by Fenz was surpassed in three months.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show one of the largest vegetation fires in New Zealand, the Lake Ohau blaze last October, cost more than $1.2 million.

The cause of the fire, which destroyed about 50 homes and more than 5000ha, has not been released.

The vast majority, $702,000, was spent on aerial firefighting.

Fifteen helicopters spent 261 hours fighting the fire, and three fixed-wing aircraft were deployed for 15 hours.

Fenz deputy chief executive Raewyn Bleakley said while most of its funding came from a levy on fire insurance, aerial firefighting services were funded by the national rural fire suppression budget.

Remnant framework of a Lake Ōhau Village home. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
Remnant framework of a Lake Ōhau Village home. Photo: Supplied via RNZ
The fire suppression budget for the 2020-21 financial year was set at $6.753 million, and a large portion was expected to be spent on aerial services.

At the end of October 2020, it was about $1.9 million over budget, and Fenz had since adjusted it to be about $10 million, Ms Bleakley said.

"This reflects the changing climate in New Zealand with dry conditions resulting in a longer fire season.

"Protecting life, property, and the environment is our top priority and our spend directly relates to the firefighting needs at individual incidents."

Fenz recently introduced a national "open panel" contracts system for using aircraft operators, including provision of payment for aircraft on official standby.

"These systems allow for greater use of aircraft at incidents, not lesser, and recognise changes to the scope of aircraft-related work we are now required to undertake.

"The partnership we have with the general aviation sector is extremely important in responding to wildfires and other emergencies."

Figures also revealed the 618ha fire in October last year at Livingstone, in Waitaki, cost more than $420,000 to tackle.

Of this total figure, $267,000 was spent on 12 helicopters used for 96.7 hours.

It was possible costs for the two fires could increase as further invoices were received.

Lake Ohau fire

Hire of aerial services: $702,214
External firefighting services: $65,586
Employee payments: $167,820
Volunteer payments: $112,861
Plant and equipment: $66,029
Foam/retardant: $52,203
Travel, accommodation and meals: $49,991
Incident catering: $46,841
Fuel: $1188
Other costs: $4643
Total: $1,269,376



Peter Dunne must now realise that setting up Fenz was a disaster as many of us warned. Rural & urban firefighting & rescue is vastly different - in personnel. training, resources & funding.
For those unaware - Dunne's legislation took rural fire away from regional councils and merged it with the urban fire service - who are the poor loser.
Funding comes currently from those that chose to insure their house/ contents & car. Shortly that will come on to your rates as Fenz has a massive funding shortfall due to fewer insuring now. For insurance to pay for remote rural scrub fires is dumb. So far the Govt has bailed Fenz out over $300 million.
So folks, you are now aware that firefighting in NZ is NOT govt funded, never has been.
Also interesting is that Victoria has now gone to the previous structure Dunne got rid of.

Fires in rural areas happen because negligent people don't heed/read advice given by FENZ. Unfortunately under current legislation they don't have to pay for it anymore. Bring back charging the land owner for starting/causing the fire the number of fires will decrease as will the expense. Simple really!

Make the people who start the fires pay for them. No excuses, no exemptions.

Ban fireworks