Fire Following Earthquake (FFE)

After a large earthquake, there is likely to be damage to buildings and infrastructure. This can mean that there is more opportunity for a fire to start and spread. On rare occasions, a fire which starts following an earthquake can develop into a serious emergency.

Our highest priority is keeping ourselves, families and whānau safe.

It only takes a spark to start a fire, but there are steps we can take to help reduce the risk of a fire starting and spreading.

Tips on how to stay safe and help prevent fire after an earthquake

BEFORE an earthquake:

DURING and AFTER an earthquake:

Drop, Cover and Hold during the shaking, and once the shaking stops, you can take these steps:

  • If you suspect damage to gas or electrics - quickly shut off power and gas.
  • Be ready to evacuate to a safe location which is far enough away from fire and other potential hazards.
  • If there is time, shut off power and gas before you evacuate your property.
  • If there has been a power outage, turn off electrical appliances, smell for gas leaks and check for any other potential fire hazards before turning your power back on.
  • Know that emergency services are likely to be stretched and may not be in a position to provide assistance.
  • Do not rely on mains water working - the earthquake may have damaged water pipes.

Tsunami evacuation

If you are near the coast or in a tsunami zone and the earthquake was longer than a minute or strong enough to knock you off your feet (long or strong), then evacuate immediately to higher ground (get gone). Do not wait for a warning.

Check the tsunami zones for the Wellington Region

 What’s different about fire following an earthquake?

Fire can happen at any time, but following an earthquake, there are extra factors which mean that a fire is more likely to start and can spread more quickly. These are:

  • The earthquake causes the ground to shake and move, which can crack gas pipes and damage power lines, electrical wiring and household appliances. This damage can ignite fires.
  • Liquefaction, where some soils, particularly silt or sandy soils, turn into a muddy liquid, can cause damage to pipes and buildings. This can make firefighting efforts more difficult.
  • Earthquake damage can block roads, which may delay the emergency response.
  • Water may not be readily available due to damaged pipes.
  • Damage to buildings can expose flammable materials, such as insulation, which can keep fires burning.  
  • Debris can fall into gaps between buildings and help a fire to spread more easily.
  • A power outage might delay a fire starting. However, damaged household appliances and wiring could start a fire when the power is switched back on.

Useful links

Research

GNS Science is carrying out research and modelling to look more closely at the factors involved in a fire following an earthquake (FFE) and how their findings can inform emergency planning. This research is part of the wider ‘It’s Our Fault’ programme, a comprehensive multi-year study of Wellington Region’s earthquake hazard, risk and resilience. The programme is funded by the Earthquake Commission (EQC), Wellington City Council (WCC) and Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO), and the project has frequent input from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), Wellington Lifelines Group and Wellington Water. 

Read more about the GNS Science 'It's Our Fault' programme (gns.cri.nz)

FAQs