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Protecting marae cultural sites from fire

Maraes are sacred historical places that often contain carvings and artefacts that would beirreplaceable in the event of a fire. As most maraes are constructed from timber and manyare located in remote locations, they are particularly vulnerable to fire. 

Protecting maraes from the risk of fire requires both careful planning and technicalknowledge. Consideration must also be given to a marae’s heritage buildings which in somecases can be over 100 years old. Inadequate or improper fire protection can also exposethe marae’s community to danger, lead to potential injury or, in a worst case scenario, loss oflife.

According to the NZ Fire Service, fewer than 20 percent of maraes have a fire safety systeminstalled, and only recently a marae in Taumarunui was sadly lost due to fire. To help maraetrustees protect their buildings against the risk of fire, Wormald has the following advice:

  • Conduct a fire safety audit: a comprehensive fire safety audit will highlightpotential fire risks around the facility and help to determine the fire protectionsolutions required. Fire hazards in maraes will vary depending on the marae facilitiesbut in general will extend to the wharekai, wharenui and any ancillary structures.Considerations include kitchen or heating appliances, electrical equipment andswitch boards, flammable liquids, and sleeping environments. A fire protectionspecialist will help identify hazards and recommend appropriate fire protectionsolutions. A fire safety checklist can also be downloaded from the Wormald website.

  • Keep up to date with regulation and legislation: Marae trustees shouldunderstand their ethical and legal fire safety requirements as listed on the marae’sbuilding compliance schedule, and be aware of the fire safety regulations and NewZealand standards relating to fire safety and fire protection equipment, maintenanceand training.

  • Install adequate fire protection equipment: there is a wide range of fire protectionequipment available from basic fire extinguishers and fire hose reels, to passive firesolutions such as fire doors and more advanced fire detection and suppressionsystems. When deciding on the most suitable fire protection solution, considerationsinclude legislation and standards, size and type of building, and the materials beinghandled or stored on the premises.

  • Service and maintenance: when it comes to fire protection, a high level of reliabilityis essential. Fire protection systems and equipment should always perform to thestandard to which they were originally designed and installed. Regular testing canvalidate the functionality of fire protection systems and equipment and help uncoverany faults or issues that may cause malfunction. Also check that fire hoses are ingood condition without any cracks, and that fire extinguishers are regularly tested.

  • Provide appropriate signage: all hazards, fire protection equipment andemergency exits, fire extinguishers and other fire safety equipment should be clearlymarked. Emergency exits signs should be visible so that in the event of anevacuation, all building occupants can escape quickly.

  • Training: having someone that can respond appropriately in the event of a fire is aninvaluable investment and can substantially reduce the impact of a crisis. Maraetrustees should appoint a fire warden who knows how to respond to a fire emergencyand knows how to use the fire equipment on-site.

The marae community and trustees can protect their structures for future generations byensuring they have appropriate fire safety solutions in place. A professional fire safetyspecialist can provide valuable advice and can help take the stress out of maintaining fireprotection systems. For more information contact Wormald on 0800 4967 6253.