Friday, 30 October 2020


What roadside fire danger signs really mean

What roadside fire danger signs really mean

Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping and the fire danger is high. But what do the familiar roadside fire danger signs really mean?

Clear, colourful and simple, the signs’ message is not as obvious as it seems. The Scion Rural Fire Research Group is working with the National Rural Fire Authority after a study found that many people are not sure what the danger ratings mean, or if they apply to them.
Lisa Langer, the fire scientist who led the work, explains, “We wanted to see if the fire danger warnings influenced people’s behaviour and encouraged safer fire practices.
“We interviewed locals and New Zealand and international visitors in Canterbury and Northland and asked them what the fire danger signs meant to them.
“On the plus side, most people are aware of the signs. But some of our results were surprising.
“Perhaps most worrying is that one person in five felt the signs didn’t apply to them, that they were for others, like smokers or campers or ‘reckless people.’
“And two thirds of people we talked to said that that the signs did not alert them to the possibility that that they might need to change their behaviour. People were also very uncertain as to what they should or shouldn’t do at each fire danger level, other than for low or extreme.
“We also found that the signs were not particularly effective for visitors. This is a specific concern in summer when people are moving around the country and the fire danger is often very high or extreme.
“The challenge is to get people to take notice of the fire danger signs, to make them aware of local conditions, and what they can do to prevent wildfires from starting.
"Rural Fire Authorities, led by the National Rural Fire Authority, have responded to these research findings by developing new TV advertising, YouTube clips, roadside signs and some FireSmart activities. The emphasis is now ‘Check it’s alright before you light.’”
Further work by the Rural Fire Research Group has focused on how to communicate wildfire messages more effectively. “We considered who was using fire, what they needed to know about fire risk, restrictions and other actions to prevent fires, as well as being prepared for a fire if one should occur,” says Lisa.
“Most people are not fire users, but that can change on holiday. It is holidaymakers who do things like light campfires and set off fireworks that could start a wildfire. And holidaymakers tend to be visitors to an area. One of the real communication challenges is to increase the awareness of visitors to the local fire danger in the area they are in."


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