Nelson fire: 235 properties evacuated, one house destroyed

6:46 am on 7 February 2019

Civil Defence has confirmed one has house burned down in Redwood Valley, as crews work hard to contain a large blaze that broke out yesterday.

Civil Defence said the fire now covered about 1900 hectares, with a 22 kilometre perimeter.

Meanwhile, some 235 properties have been evacuated in Tasman tonight as crews work hard to contain a large blaze that broke out yesterday.

The favourable weather and the fire's behaviour was helping crew to contain the blaze.

The Tasman District Mayor, Richard Kempthorne, said the fire was becoming more manageable.

At Civil Defence briefing for Nelson fire

Photo: RNZ/ Tracy Neal

Evacuated residents need to stay away from their properties even if it looks safe, because the wind can change and become dangerous, he said.

Emergency services will hold a community meeting at 9am tomorrow morning to update Moutere Valley residents.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, will also be attending.

There are 48 people, 14 aircraft and 10 pieces of heavy machinery involved in the efforts.

Grant Haywood, Fire and Emergency New Zealand Tasman area commander told a media briefing this afternoon that there had been damage to properties, especially to garages and outbuildings, however, so far they had not seen any properties destroyed.

"But we can't confirm that until we get deep into some of the roads which we've had closed off since last night.

"In the deeper parts of the forest it's unsafe for us to get our crews in there. It's very hard for our helicopters to get deep into the smoke so that's the only way we can get some eyes onto the fire."

Mr Kempthorne said when he flew over the area he was able to see that Fire and Emergency probably saved his own home which is in the firing line.

"It was really interesting to see how well we had been protected, by particularly FENZ [Fire and Emergency New Zealand] ... and I take my hat off to them for what they've done.

"Having been in with Civil Defence, fire and police: Great coordination, there's a real good service.

"There can be some frustration with people not knowing what's going on but there's a huge amount happening, and so all the organisations are just wanting to deliver for people."

Mr Haywood said there was enough existing resources to cope with a second blaze that had broken out on Rabbit Island, across from Nelson Airport.

People were asked to leave the area immediately when news of the fire broke just after 2pm, but emergency crews said although about 10 hectares of forestry had been burnt, the Rabbit Island fire was now under control.

"We're got that set up as a separate fire, it started out of the blue for us but we had eyes on in immediately and we've got resource down there," Mr Haywood said.

Four ground crews and three helicopters were diverted to the fire on the 15 square kilometre island from the main event, happening just to the south, behind Rabbit Island.

More about the fires:

For the Pigeon Valley fire, the priority was on containment, it was a large fire but 16 aircraft and helicopters as well as large machinery were being used.

Mr Haywood said the region was the driest it had been in 20 years, the fire risk was extreme and the Pigeon Valley fire was probably the equal of a fire in Maitai Valley in the 1980s.

Workers from the roading contractors, Higgins, have been working around the clock in shifts since yesterday afternoon.

Bert Wilson, who started a 12-hour shift at 7am today, said the civil engineering firm had made a couple of vehicles and teams available.

"We've been right beside the fire, yesterday we were feeding the helicopters putting water into the ponds, helicopters were using the monsoon buckets, that was yesterday. Today we're more dampening down hot spots."

Specialist fire investigators were due in the region today to look at the causes of both fires which were unknown at this stage, he said.

Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi said he was sorry if residents believed not enough up-to-date information was being shared with them. However, the fact no one had been injured or trapped meant they were getting some information, either from the media or social media.

People should be pro-active in seeking out information from existing channels, Mr Faafoi said.

"There's responsibility on both sides with information to go out but also for people to keep engaged on social media or the media themselves."

West Coast MP Damien O'Connor said while people might be frustrated with the flow of communications, the safety of fire crews and helicopter pilots was paramount.

Mr Faafoi said he had been told during a visit to the emergency centre, that authorities were happy with the resources they had on hand, but more would be made available from the government if necessary.

The Defence Force was now involved and cordons that had been put in place would be reinforced with more people arriving from out-of-town this afternoon.

Animal welfare a priority

Mr O'Connor said so far 13 animals had been euthanised, including some on lifestyle properties. He urged people who had been evacuated not to endanger their lives by returning too soon to check on their animals.

Animal welfare was being looked at hourly by the coordinators, he said.

There were two large farms around the perimeter of the fire and checks were being made that there was enough water to supply their livestock.

Both ministers flew over the scene of the fire today and Mr Faafoi said it was obvious flames had got within metres of houses and a large sawmill and firefighters had done an excellent job in limiting the damage to properties.