7 Feb 2019

Nelson bush fire: PM to assess damage as blaze remains 'out of control'

10:15 am on 7 February 2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will fly into Nelson today to assess the damage after the forest fire that's grown to nearly 2000ha, and prompted 182 property evacuations.

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Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Ms Ardern will be joined by Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, who have both been on the ground since yesterday.

She is expected to attend a community meeting held by emergency services to update Moutere Valley residents.

Damien O'Connor and Kris Faafoi in Nelson.

Ministers Damien O'Connor and Kris Faafoi have been on the ground in Nelson since yesterday. The Prime Minister will join them today. Photo: RNZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

Civil Defence has confirmed one house was destroyed as firefighters work continuously to contain the huge bush fire near Nelson described as the worst to hit the region since a huge forest fire burned through the Maitai Valley in the 1980s.

At a media briefing this morning Tasman district mayor Richard Kempthorne said the reality was stopping the blaze was likely to take several days more.

More about the fires:

The response today

Fire and Emergency incident controller John Sutton said there were about 100 firefighters on the ground today, 22 helicopters, two planes with another on the way, 20 heavy machinery vehicles for earthworks and preventing the fire spreading.

About 40 extra police officers from Wellington and Canterbury have been brought in to help with the emergency response and to discourage potential looters.

Teams from the Defence Force and eight teams from Department of Conservation are also joining the response, and more aircraft are also arriving today. Contractors from Higgins have also been working round-the-clock shifts since yesterday.

An emergency centre spokesperson said 400 people were affected by the evacuation in the fire which is described as contained but not under control.

It was thought more than 200 homes were affected yesterday, but the official number of evacuated properties has been revised down to 182.

Fire and Emergency said crews working overnight built more firebreaks and kept it within a 22km perimeter.

Mr Sutton said that although the fire had not grown or breached perimeters, the fire was still not contained or under control.

"When fire goes through the landscape it doesn't go with a clean sweep ... you end up with islands of unburnt fuel that's still actively burning.

"It didn't progress anywhere in its perimeters yesterday but that's more to do with the benign conditions and work we were doing directly on the perimeter.

"When I talk about containment that means there has to be no embers or active heat within 30 metres of the actual perimeter.

Firefighters are working against the clock to halt the main fire before strong winds which are forecast to arrive tomorrow.

Weather conditions last night were favourable for those fighting the fire, and was helping crews contain the blaze. MetService said winds were expected to ease back further today, which could also help, with a high of 20C predicted.

Mr Sutton said he wanted to be able to say by the end of today that there was a measure of containment and praised the efforts of firefighters so far.

"This is a multi-agency response... I think it hasn't really been acknowledged the whole range of work that firefighters have done protecting, particularly, houses.

"There's paint blistered on houses, that's how close the fire has been to residences.

However, the long battle against the inferno was beginning to take its toll, particularly on local crews.

"I personally noticed some effects of fatigue on some of them and we're trying to bring more firefighters from outside the region."

He said part of why the national team was there was to support the local crews to get some rest before they returned to "the fry".

A lack of water in the region, which has been on the brink of drought, has made things difficult for firefighters.

However, Mr Sutton said a river in the area was helping, and water supplies were good.

"Water's very good, we're quite lucky in that there's a river nearby and we're able to dig water dams pretty much at will."

Mr Kempthorne said more water trucks were on their way and soldiers would also use heavy-duty 4WD trucks called Unimogs to help move water to fill the aerial buckets carried by helicopters.

Cordons; fears for animals and property

Cordons are expected to remain tightly controlled today, and it's unlikely they will be lifted.

The command center in Redwood Valley

The command center in Redwood Valley yesterday. Photo: RNZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

Police district commander Zane Hooper this morning urged people to obey cordons and remain away from the area unless they were needed there.

He said they were working on a plan for how and when people could start to return.

"We would equally ask that people not approach the cordon staff but check the website, call Civil Defence or listen to the radio.

"Our community are clearly concerned ... we want to facilitate their return to their property as soon as they can."

However, he made it clear people should not return until they had been told to do so, and encouraged all affected residents to attend the community meeting this morning.

Civil Defence area controller Roger Ball said people with concerns for animals should call to let them know.

"We have opened a facility at the A&P showgrounds where we have stables, paddocks and gated areas and we can accommodate there horses; sheep; cattle; goats.

"We can accommodate companion animals at the Civil Defence centre in Wakefield.

He said anyone who could not get to the centre should call them.

Road signs all around the area reminding people to conserve water.

Road signs all around the area reminding people to conserve water. Photo: RNZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

Fire and Emergency said the most likely cause of the fire was a spark that came off machinery in Pigeon Valley.


  • Check this map for basic information, but do not rely on it for accuracy if you are in the area

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