Nelson bush fire: Locals urged to leave homes

12:46 am on 6 February 2019

Several houses have been lost in Redwood Valley in the Nelson region in a large forest fire and people who are downwind of the fire must be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice, Tasman-Marlborough firefighters say.

The fire has now spread to 780 hectares and firefighters say they could be battling the blaze for another two to four days.

Smoke from the Tasman forest fire, on approach to Nelson from the flight deck of an Air NZ plane.

Smoke from the Tasman forest fire, on approach to Nelson from the flight deck of an Air NZ plane. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The fire broke out mid-afternoon in Pigeon Valley near Nelson - it's now grown to 780 hectares with a perimeter of 14km and conditions are hot and windy.

People living near the fire were this afternoon told to evacuate immediately and 11 families had arrived at the Civil Defence Centre by 11pm.

It's been set up at St Johns in Wakefield and emergency services are expecting the number of people using it to rise.

Due to strong winds fanning the flames, crews have not been able to access the forest areas and are instead focusing on controlling the fire when it's spotted on grassland.

Twelve firefighting crews will be on site overnight and tomorrow, two planes and six helicopters will arrive to help control the blaze.

Residents of Eves Valley near the fire and surrounding areas were this afternoon told to leave their homes.

Teapot Valley residents are being told to get ready to get out, as if the need arises they will not have much time to prepare.

Earlier this evening, more than 60 firefighters and five helicopters with monsoon buckets were still battling the blaze, as it moved north towards Eves Valley and Teapot Valley.

Tasman District Council is warning people against visiting the area, so emergency services can work.

Nelson residents are reporting ash is falling over the city, despite the fire being 30km away.

Alison Hossain, who lives in Atawhai, near central Nelson, can see a huge, dark, red cloud and ash is falling from the sky. She said she could smell the smoke, which is gritty and gets into the eyes.

"The reflection on to the water in Nelson Bay is just red and dark, it's really quite eery," she said.

Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne said about 30 were being evacuated in total, and he was urging people to stay calm.

Emergency services were doing their best in difficult conditions, Mr Kempthorne said.

"It will be hours, if not a day or two, before the fire is completely out. We are so dry at the moment, we're in an extreme fire risk time so it will take a while to get the fire completely out."

Mr Kempthorne said emergency services have set up a centre for welfare, and people could contact the council for more information if they needed.

Firefighters in Tasman District said they could be battling the blaze for another two to four days.

Wakefield Fire Station chief fire officer Fritz Buckendahl said high winds, rolling country and dry radiata pine trees were allowing the fire to spread very quickly.

He said all the factors were working against firefighters at this stage.

Mr Buckendahl said crews would reassess the fire early in the morning and start fighting it from directly within the forestry block again.

Eves Valley resident and deputy Tasman mayor Tim King talked to Checkpoint as he was preparing to leave his house and said the fire had got progressively closer over the course of the afternoon.

He said he had spent the afternoon packing gear up and police told them to leave about 5pm. He said a lot of friends and family have helped them get irreplaceable things from their house.

Mr King said all he could see is black smoke over the property but no flames and it was still a reasonable distance away, but it was important to evacuate.

"The wind's blowing and I've been involved in rural firefighting over the last 20 years and I know these things can change in a rush, so when someone says 'you need to leave', you need to leave."

He said there were only about half a dozen residents in Eves Valley.

Resident Simon Reiter said his property was about 1km away from the blaze and he had been told by police to have a bag packed just in case.

"We've made plans, horse floats are connected onto vehicles and everyone's been allocated what animals they're taking out. We've sort of made those plans to be ready to go as most people in the valley have done."

Mr Reiter said he was worried for friends further up the road who had livestock near the path of the fire.

Teapot Valley resident Abigail Marshall said they rounded up cats, dogs and one hen, and gathered precious possessions after being told to evacuate.

She said the smoke was getting thicker on the valley floor.

"Dad said he saw flames not that long ago from down the valley a bit further. The smoke is definitely getting thicker, we can now see a little bit of smoke at our property, like down at eye level."

Park Manager of Higgins Heritage Park on Pigeons Valley Road, Allan Palmer, said the fire is further up the road, but he is concerned about the wind.

"The south-westerly winds behind it, there's a lot of trees ahead of it, so it doesn't look too good and we are so very very dry, it's the driest we've known it for many years in the Waimeas."

Kayla Lynette Jackson who works at the Wakefield Bakery told Checkpoint there was a lot of smoke coming off the hills.

She said the fire was getting close to her house and there are a lot of nearby farms including two horse farms and a deer farm.

There had not been any rain in the area since December, she said.