Rural fires cost the New Zealand economy about NZD$67m ($43m) each year, and the figure could grow by 70% in 20 years.
Fire scientist Grant Pearce told New Zealand Herald, “Greater losses could also see insurance companies stop offering wildfire loss cover in identified high risk areas, as is already starting to be seen in some countries around the world and may well come about after these latest Australian bushfires, as it has for other natural hazard types.”
He expects a rapid worsening of fire danger in most regions by 2040, before the risk increases more gradually over the rest of the century.
That will be due to a combination of less rainfall, higher temperatures and stronger winds in many areas, driving a higher number of “severe” fire weather days, especially the east and north of both islands.
In already fire-prone places like Canterbury, these danger days would balloon from 30 to 40 days to 40 to 50 days in future. But the more dramatic shifts would be seen in greener Manawatu, Whanganui and coastal Otago, where severe fire weather could double or even treble, climbing from five to 10 days to 15 to 20 days.
Mr Pearce said that projections suggested that, by 2040, fire risk in many regions—even wetter places like Taranaki, Manawatu and the South Island’s West Coast— would shift from one end of the scale to the other.
He said that regions with larger population centres saw more fires, which were almost always started by people.
With rural and urban areas increasingly overlapping, there is a need for more proactive district planning.