Rights: The University of Waikato Published 3 November 2009 Download

Stuart Anderson works for the Rural Fire Research Group, Scion, at the University of Canterbury. In this video, he talks about rural fires compared to structural fires.

Points of interest

  • What is the main difference between rural fires and structural fires?
  • What makes rural fires (wildfires) dangerous?


The main difference between fires in the rural environment compared to indoor structural fires – rural fires could be forest or grass or scrub land or anything like that – the biggest simple difference is that fires in an indoor environment are burning in an enclosed type of environment, so it could be within a building or within a room, and the fire can just be contained to that area or a single building or structure, whereas outdoor rural vegetation fires can spread a lot easier. They are burning in vegetation. They are in an open environment, so there’s a lot of mixing with the surrounding air and the atmosphere – wind in particular will continue to drive fires through vegetation. It can keep burning, and as long as there is enough fuel and it's dry enough, it just keeps spreading and growing.

And then it also is a lot more influenced by the likes of changes in the wind or terrain or moving from one fuel type to another – so burning, say, from grass into scrub or gorse or something like that – it’s a lot more dynamic and influenced by all the surrounding conditions.

When we talk of a wildfire, we are talking of a fire that is not under control. It’s burning freely, and it needs firefighters to suppress it or contain it. In the rural environment outdoors, we do have what we call controlled burning, so it could be a farmer burning off an area of scrub where they are allowed to do that. The fire is contained within an area where it should be burning. A wildfire is, yeah, an ignition or a fire-start in the landscape and it shouldn't be there, and it needs to be contained and put out.

New Zealand Fire Service