Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977

The purpose of the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977 is to safeguard life and property from fires in forest and rural areas.

The New Zealand Fire Service Commission (NZFS) is the National Fire Authority. The act also provides for Local Fire Authorities to exercise authority in respect of individual rural fire districts. Fire Authorities may be rural fire committees, territorial authorities (such as councils) or, in relation to state land (i.e. national parks, conservation areas), the Minister of Conservation.

In this article we consider when a permit is required to light fires in rural areas, and whether farmers could be held liable under the act for the cost of suppressing a fire.

When is a fire permit required?

Depending on the fire season, a permit may be required to light fires in rural areas.

Fire seasons have been identified to control the number and type of fires at high risk times of the year. The three fire seasons are as follows:

  • Open season: Where no permit is required and the lighting of fires in the open air (i.e. a fire otherwise than within a fireplace, an incinerator, a barbeque or such other receptacle or place authorised by a fire authority) is neither prohibited nor restricted.
  • Restricted season: Where a permit is required for the lighting of fires in the open air; and
  • Prohibited season: Where the lighting of fires in the open air is prohibited.

Note: Irrespective of the fire season, restrictions may apply and/or a permit may be required in relation to the lighting of fires for example in any state land, forest area, specifically protected site, or during weather or other conditions that present an extreme fire hazard. Care must also be taken not to cause a smoke nuisance to neighbours.

There are also specific bylaws that restrict the lighting of fires in urban areas to certain times and conditions.

The current restriction/season is "open" in rural areas in the New Plymouth District. However, different restrictions will apply from district to district and it is advisable to check whether a permit is required or restrictions apply to lighting fires on your property.

Could you be liable for the cost of suppressing a fire?

The answer is yes! In situations where the Rural Fire Service or the NZFS are called out to deal with a fire and costs are incurred, the fire authority or the NZFS, can seek recovery of those costs from the person who caused the outbreak. You could also be liable to neighbours for any damage caused to their property due to the spread of a fire.

In rural areas, the NZFS will suppress structural fires at no cost. However, it is the policy of the NZFS/fire authority to recover all costs of suppressing a fire where possible. Section 43 of the act specifically allows the NZFS and the fire authority to do this.

For example, the farmer/camper in the following two scenarios is likely to be liable to the NZFS or the fire authority for payment of the costs of suppressing a fire.

Scenario 1: Farmer Jo ring-barks several pine trees on his property causing them to fall on his electricity service line and cause a fire. Farmer Jo had not taken any precautions as to considering which way the pine trees would fall. In this scenario the NZFS or the fire authority is likely to be able to recover its costs from Farmer Jo due to the fact that Farmer Jo's actions were the direct cause of the fire.

Scenario 2: Surfer Sam lights a fire on Farmer Fred's Opunake property while camping there without his knowledge. Surfer Sam leaves the fire unsupervised and it soon becomes out of control and spreads to nearby vegetation. The NZFS is called out to suppress the fire. If Surfer Sam can be identified as the person who lit the fire he is likely to be liable for the NZFS's or the fire authority's costs of suppressing the fire.


The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document.
If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser.



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