Lake Ōhau wildfire investigation completed

Fire and Emergency New Zealand

Lake Ōhau wildfire investigation completed

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has today published two reports into the Lake Ōhau fire of 4 October 2020; the Lake Ōhau Wildfire Investigation Report and the Lake Ōhau Operational Review.

Fire and Emergency Te Kei Region Manager Mike Grant says specialist fire investigators have determined the fire was accidental and caused by an electrical short circuit on a power pole several kilometres upwind of the village, which ignited dry vegetation below the powerline.

“Vegetation, terrain, high temperatures and, in particular, severe winds contributed to the rapid spread of this fire towards the Lake Ōhau village and surrounding countryside,” Mike Grant says.

“Fortunately, no lives were lost thanks to the quick actions from residents of the Lake Ōhau Alpine Village who enacted the community’s wildfire plan, and the swift response and evacuations by the Twizel and Omarama Volunteer Fire Brigades and local Police. 

The Lake Ōhau fire destroyed 48 homes and buildings, and damaged 5043 hectares of land, making it one of New Zealand’s most significant wildfires in recent history.

It took nine days to completely put out the fire. At the peak of the fire there were 11 helicopters and more than 100 people deployed to support the response.

Fire and Emergency also carried out an Operational Review into the fire – as is usual with significant and complex fires like Lake Ōhau. Operational reviews consider how fire crews handled an emergency.

“The review praised the fire crews and residents for their fast actions in the face of fire conditions rarely seen in New Zealand,” Mike Grant says.

“I commend their bravery. Their actions undoubtedly saved lives and several properties that would otherwise have been destroyed.

The Operational Review found the incident was well-managed and had good strategies to ensure the priority was always those people who were impacted by the fire.

Over the past year, Fire and Emergency personnel have had regular contact with the Lake Ōhau and local farming communities.

“Recognising the wildfire risk, we have been working with the Lake Ōhau community for more than 20 years to develop a wildfire plan –and providing wildfire equipment and training”, Mike Grant says.

“We will continue to support them and will be working with them to update their wildfire response plan, incorporating any recommendations from these reports, including factoring in the transient and visitor population of the village,” Mike Grant says.

“We acknowledge this has been a tough year for the wider community as they have worked through the impact of the fire. We thank them for their patience while our investigators took the necessary time to complete a thorough investigation.

For more information on rural fire safety, go to www.fireandemergency.nz/farms-rural-properties-and-rural-businesses

Fire and Emergency has produced a summary of events compiled from the Wildfire Investigation Report and the Operational Review.