Pagers at Firesmart display

Those people living in the high fire risk area, the "Red Zone", have access to what has been called New Zealand's leading wild fire response system, and this Saturday they will be informed of the complete switch from telephone warning system to pagers.

A Red Zone Community Firesmart Day on Saturday from midday to 2pm at Closeburn Station will be attended by residents, emergency services personnel, and representatives from the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Department of Conservation.

It will bring residents together for the first time since the pager system was introduced in August.

Doc rural fire officer Jamie Cowan said it would be a time to talk about the new system and discuss red zone plans as the fire season approached.

In 2005, 30 homes were evacuated following the Closeburn fire and residential fire wardens introduced a telephone tree fire warning system.

At present, a dual system is operating, with some residents having pagers and some still relying on telephone alerts.

Messages did not reach recipients at the same time, unlike pagers.

Mr Cowan said the phone system was "slow and cumbersome" and in many of the locations there was no cellphone reception so this was not an option as it was in many Australian fire risk areas.

The red zone community comprises the residents of Bob's Cove, Closeburn Station, Wilsons Bay, Moke Rd and Skyline, about 100 homes, and all were aware of the fire danger when living among wilding pines and sloping hills.

The area was subject to a 365-day total fire ban.

The pager system rolled out in August consists of a $7000 Doc-funded transmitter at Wilsons Bay, and individual pagers costing $250 to be bought by residents.

"Part of this day will be demonstrating the pager," Mr Cowan said.

There will also be information about evacuations, regarding what to do and where to go.

"Once we have had this day ...

we are going to switch over and we won't be ringing anymore."

There had been "a lot of interest from different parts of the country" about the pager system.

"I think the wild fire response plan in Queenstown is probably one of the leading in New Zealand.

"It's a top system."

While he hoped not to use the system, it was inevitable it would be needed.

"The reality is we have a history of fire throughout the lake face and it is only a matter of time," Mr Cowan said.


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