Wildfire season cools off, but hot, dry summers are here to stay, says Greater Wellington

  • Published Date 15 Apr 2024

After one of the driest summers on record, Greater Wellington nears the end of its first season using a new fire risk management system across its regional parks. 

Wildfire monitoring began in December at several high-risk regional parks. Extreme conditions caused two areas of the East Harbour Regional Park to close to the public on 16 February, with rain and cooling temperatures making it safe to re-open on 20 April. 

Greater Wellington Eastern Parks team leader Ricky Clarkson says each park has a unique biome, which requires different ways to mitigate fire risk.

“The East Harbour Regional Park’s environment ranges from dense native bush to an incredibly dry coastline,” Mr Clarkson says.

“Baring Head in particular has a unique microclimate, exposed to the Cook Strait winds with less rain than other parts of the region.”

Just 33mm of rain fell from December to February at Baring Head, less than half the rainfall central Wellington received in the same period.

“By February, the risk of wildfire was extreme, meaning if a fire were to start it would become uncontrollable very quickly,” Mr Clarkson adds.

Greater Wellington environment group manager Lian Butcher says the first year of the proactive risk management plan went well, allowing for agile restrictions in changing conditions.

“This won’t be our last hot, dry summer. Partially or even fully closing regional parks is something we may have to do every year if the conditions become unsafe and the risk to people, animals and property too high,” Ms Butcher says.

“January’s fires in Whitireia and Belmont regional parks are a tangible reminder of how dangerous fire is, and how quickly it can ravage natural spaces and threaten people and their homes.”

Stokes Valley resident and daughter of former Baring Head lighthouse keeper Bill Kemp, Gwen McDonald, says before Baring Head closed, the landscape was “the driest I’ve ever seen it before”.

“The historic lighthouse complex could so easily be lost. Closing Baring Head was the right call, and the Friends of Baring Head work closely with Greater Wellington to protect it,” Mrs McDonald says.

Greater Wellington is continuing to actively monitor fire risk across all regional parks, with some restrictions still in place.

“We want to thank people across the region for respecting the fire restrictions, and helping us protect our regional parks,” adds Ms Butcher.

To learn more about wildfire risk management at Greater Wellington, visit our wildfires page

Updated April 24, 2024 at 4:53 PM

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