Fire evacuees desperate to return home

From Checkpoint, 5:37 pm on 13 February 2019

The battle to bring the Tasman wildfire under control is entering its ninth night tonight - and residents evacuated from about 200 nearby properties are no closer to knowing when they'll be heading home.

Susan and Rob Ketel

Susan and Rob Ketel Photo: RNZ/ Nita Blake-Persen

The blaze, which has burned through 2400 hectares, is now the country's largest wildfire.
Those who have been forced to evacuate said they understood the stakes were high but the uncertainty and disruption to their lives was taking its toll.
Susan Ketel and her husband Rob are among the 500 evacuees - they've taken their kids to stay at a friend's place in Richmond, but with animals scattered at different properties across the area, and their home offices out of action, it's a stressful time.

But Ms Ketel said they'd had amazing support from friends and the wider community.

"Suck it up buttercup, basically.

"A good friend of mine who is in the Fire Service, that's one of her favourite sayings and I love it, because that's what you have to do at times like that."

Evacuees are allowed back home for a couple of hours each day at the moment, but Rob Ketel said with flare ups still visible across the valley from his place, he didn't see that becoming permanent any time soon.

One of those flare ups got big overnight and Fire Controller Trevor Mitchell said it was a clear reminder of the dangers of the fire.

He said a breakout of fire was dealt with quickly but there was still a lot of work to do and the fire was still not contained.

"This is the fire telling us it's still the boss."

Michael Higgins

Michael Higgins Photo: RNZ/ Nita Blake-Persen

"It's better to stay out until we can actually go back and do everything properly, because the thought of getting out again is quite difficult."
But he said he was confident crews would beat the blaze eventually.

"There's good people out there - and I know the [bulldozer] operators that are operating around the back, and I know the firemen, and I'm in good hands."
The Tasman area faces a long recovery from the fire - crews are expected to on the ground for weeks to come, with drought conditions and no forecast rain making things even more difficult for farmers.
A mayoral relief fund has raised $150,000 - but so far none of it has been handed out as the council is still deciding on the criteria for recipients.