The Insurance Council of New Zealand has today released its preliminary figures for the Ohau fire, 4-5 October, with $34.8 million paid for insured losses.

To date insurers have supported their customers with 154 house and contents claims, 19 business and commercial and 24 vehicle claims. A final figure for the losses will be reported next year.

Tim Grafton, Chief Executive ICNZ, says it’s a poignant reminder of how quickly rural fires can spread and the important role of insurance to help pick up the pieces afterwards.

“The fire has devastated the Ohau community, leaving many to rebuild their homes and lives from scratch. It shows us just how important it is to insure adequately for unexpected events that can have such a significant impact.”

Other significant fires in New Zealand’s history include the 2017 Port Hill fires at $18.3 million and the 2019 Tasman District fires which reached $3.98 million.

The Ohau fire is the second major fire event since September, and ICNZ is calling for all New Zealanders to remain vigilant this summer.

“The impacts of climate change mean we will see more extreme weather – we can expect more droughts and more flood events. With areas forecasted to be hotter over summer there is an increased risk of fires and we all play a role in reducing this risk,’ says Mr Grafton.

There are some simple steps everyone can take to reduce the chance and impact of fires this year.

  • At home – mow your lawn, clear gutters, move combustible items like woodpiles or garden furniture away from your house and ensure there is clear access both to and from your property. Inside you could consider installing a sprinkler system, and make sure everyone you live with knows what to do if there is a fire. Plant fire retardant plants and keep them away from your house.
  • Camping, tramping or hunting over summer – make sure your check the fire conditions and if you’re allowed to light a fire, and have a permit if needed. Take the necessary steps to keep it safe.
  • Planning to light fireworks on New Year’s? Don’t if its windy or dry and be sure to follow instructions and keep water or a fire extinguisher handy.
  • BBQ’s also pose a fire risk. Treat it the same way you would a stove: don’t drink and fry and avoid leaving cooking unattended. Ensure you regularly check and maintain fittings and connections, leave clear space around it, remove nearby debris, and clean excess fat after each use.
  • Farmers and rural business must check the fire conditions before undertaking any work and comply with Hot Works requirements to reduce and manage risks this type of work poses.

There is also a role for councils to mitigate risks to communities; “Similar to removing vegetation near your home, adequate fire-breaks must be placed where trees grow close to townships – this helps to slow the spread of a fire and protect lives, homes and property of those who live there.”

For more useful resources with tips to follow to be fire safe over summer check out the Fire and Emergency website.

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