Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Blazing a trail through NZ's rural fire-fighting history

An in-depth history of rural fire-fighting in New Zealand, published by Canterbury University Press, is blazing a trail through a previously unexplored aspect of our nation’s past.

Fire in the Hills: A History of Rural Fire-fighting in New Zealand, by Wellington writer and editor Helen Beaglehole, is the first account of how New Zealand came to have a rural fire-fighting network.

It offers fascinating insights into the origins, scale and effect of the vast burn-offs by both Maori and European settlers; the Forest Service’s response to wild fires; the huge public education regime that, along with legislation and working co-operatively with the main culprits, sought to stop indiscriminate burning; and the major role some 3000 volunteers and part-timers now play in fighting rural fires around the country.

“The book is about an important but previously neglected aspect of New Zealand’s history,” said Ms Beaglehole.

“Readers will learn about the terrible fires that devastated the country as both Maori, and particularly, European settlers wrested a livelihood from the land; they will develop an understanding of the European settler mentality, the increasingly vocal arguments against the destruction of a valuable resource and the way these factors shaped the way New Zealand deals with rural fires.

“Critical to the story, too, are the techniques and technical developments that have moved rural fire-fighters from the shovel and bucket brigade to today’s teams whose training and equipment and knowledge of fire behaviour mean that controlling or extinguishing a fire is no longer a matter of rain or wind change.”
Ms Beaglehole has based her richly illustrated book on extensive research into historical records as well as on interviews with those who have fought fires as part of the now defunct Forest Service and those men and women who continue to battle wild fires today.

Ms Beaglehole established herself as a writer with stories and novels for children, which have been published in New Zealand and abroad. More recently, she has turned to non-fiction. Fire in the Hills follows her two books on New Zealand’s lighthouses and their keepers, Lighting the Coast (CUP, 2006) and Always the Sound of the Sea (Craig Potton Publishing, 2009).

Fire in the Hills: A History of Rural Fire-fighting in New Zealand by Helen Beaglehole, published by Canterbury University Press, November 2012, RRP NZ$50, paperback, ISBN 978-1-927145-35-7

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