11 Feb 2019

Wakefield residents given green light to return home

5:25 pm on 11 February 2019

Safety will be the main consideration as residents of the Tasman town of Wakefield go back home today, civil defence says.

Wakefield township have cordons around it as an evacuation is ordered.

Wakefield township with cordons around it as the evacuation was ordered. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Nelson-Tasman Civil Defence controller Roger Ball told a news conference this afternoon that Wakefield residents can return to their homes.

"People who are not residents may not go to Wakefield until 7am tomorrow morning," he said.

See RNZ's live updates here.

About 3000 people have been evacuated in total throughout the region, most from the town of Wakefield since fires broke out in the area south west of Nelson.

The fire covers 2300 hectares with a perimeter of 25km. Winds of 40km are to last into the night and there is no rain forecast for two weeks.

"I must emphasise that returning residents must be prepared to evacuate if conditions change. There does remain an element of risk and that's something for all of us to keep an eye on," Mr Ball said.

"There will continue to be a high police presence throughout Wakefield, monitoring the return and ensuring the safety and security of Wakefield's residents and their property."

Escorted envoys on SH6 will cease at 4pm and the road will be available for normal traffic from that time. Congestion is anticipated so the speed limits will be reduced.

"We are still actively planning for valley residents to return home. We are not able to say exactly when that will happen," Mr Ball said.

This was because the area was affected by fire.

Meetings for residents from affected areas will be held at 5.30pm at Appleby School or 7.30pm at Hope Community Church.

Watch the announcement that residents would be allowed back in below:

Nelson-Tasman Police Acting District Commander Zane Hooper asked the community to comply with police and to be aware re-evacuation was possible.

"If you don't have essential reasons to be travelling through [Wakefield], then we would ask you to please not do that."

Police and New Zealand Defence Force would be monitoring streets, he said.

"As part of this monitoring our staff may stop and seek further information from you as to why you are in the area.

"The fire situation and the risk of re-evacuation prevails.

"We are balancing keeping you, the community, safe, while allowing you to return to your properties.

"We are asking you not to become complacent simply because you can't see flame."

Vulnerable residents who were earlier evacuated by St Johns will not be able to return to the Wakefield area this evening.

There had been marks drawn on windows so emergency services could identify houses that had been evacuated. Mr Zane asked residents to remove those markings as soon as possible.

He warned residents that if re-evacuation was required, continuous fire sirens would sound and police vehicles would drive up and down streets

"Do not wait for people to come to your property. We need you, when hearing the sirens, to evacuate immediately."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand fire controller Trevor Mitchell said his team had done a good job containing the fire.

"Our guys have done some great work in reinforcing the lines around the fire and we are comfortable at the moment for the community to go back.

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said he was delighted for the residents of Wakefield.

"I'm also equally very keen for all the people in the valleys to be able to return.

"I have two brothers in that position."

He said there were reports of agricultural equipment cultivating and as a result the use of forestry harvesting and agriculture equipment was banned in the area from Mount Arthur to the Richmond Range.

"Interestingly, the cultivation was happening in the paddock next to where the helicopters were taking off from."

He thanked local iwi who have been providing community support.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said there was still a lot of work to be done as many people were out of work due to the fire.

"There is still a long way ahead of us for full recovery."

More of RNZ's coverage of the Nelson fires: