Lighting fires for science

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Firefighters are usually in the business of putting out fires not lighting them. 

But this week fire crews from across the South Island have been working alongside international scientists studying controlled burns in the Rakaia Gorge.

About 80 hectares of gorse land sitting alongside Double Hill Run Road, on the south side of the Gorge, has been used to study simulated wildfire behaviour.

It's the latest phase of a long term research project which started with crop stubble fuels and will see the next phase move into investigation of standing wilding pines fires.

The study started early last week and will continue until March 14.

Firefighters and researchers have been on site intermittently during gorse burns, which are planned every few days to allow researchers time to reset their equipment, including 30-metre towers.

Up to two burns are planned on each burn day.

The project has taken at least a year to plan and also involves Department of Conservation staff and Environment Canterbury have also been involved during various stages of the project.

Drones monitor the spread of a gorse fire during a combined study on the behaviour of wildfires...
Drones monitor the spread of a gorse fire during a combined study on the behaviour of wildfires near the Rakia Gorge last week. PHOTO: TONI WILLIAMS

Fire scientist Grant Pearce says Scion is leading the international project looking at fire behaviour in gorse scrub fuels.

The burn-off site was full of one to two metre high mature gorse which had been sectioned off into grids for the controlled burns.

Pearce says the goal is to gather information on how fire spreads through different vegetation to develop better models and prediction tools for rural fire managers.

The information will add to the existing knowledge from other experimental burns in New Zealand and was beneficial for firefighters.

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