12 Feb 2019

Nelson bush fires: Wakefield residents 'joyful' to be home - but leaving car packed

5:56 am on 12 February 2019

A Wakefield resident who was evacuated from her property for four days as bush fires burned near the town says she wasn't sure if she'd ever make it home.

No caption

Julie Jermyn and Ian Sutton are relieved to be home again in Wakefield. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Thousands of people in the area were given the all clear to return to their properties last night after days of uncertainty.

Julie Jermyn and Ian Sutton had been parked up in a campervan at Richmond's A and P Showgrounds since they were told to evacuate on Friday.

Julia Jermyn and Ian Sutton wait at the Richmond A&P showgrounds with their three dogs and cat.

Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Within 30 minutes of being given the go-ahead to return to Wakefield yesterday, they had packed away the two matching deck chairs and temporary dog pen that had made the showgrounds feel more like home.

"We're very joyful we can go home, it's great! Good news we can feed the tropical fish, we've got a fish tank in the lounge so we wanna feed those. I reckon a couple of days and they would have been gone so that was good, and the dogs will be happy to get home and the cat," Mr Sutton said.

The drive to Wakefield from Richmond isn't long, but last night it was a little different. Air force officers stood at the entrance of the town waving to welcome residents home.

No caption

Maggie, the couple's cat, also spent four days in the campervan. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

As he opened his garage door, Mr Sutton was unsure what state his house would be in. "Wow! It's hot in here and it stinks of smoke, or whatever," he said.

Ms Jermyn was surprised with how things were looking at the house. "All the ferns, I expected them to be flat, but they're not. They're looking pretty good!"

After inspecting the rest of the property and feeding the fish, the couple sat at their kitchen table, cup of tea in hand, and reflected on the past four days.

"You don't really think it's going to happen to you," Ms Jermyn said.

The day they left, thick grey smoke towered over their property. Ms Jermyn did not know if she would ever make it home again.

"You wondered when you left here, you sorta say goodbye, you think 'Oh, is it going to be here when I get back?' Because when we saw the black all up there, you sort of [think the worst]," she said.

For the couple - and the other people of Wakefield - it's not over yet.

The fire is still burning and residents have been told they must be prepared to evacuate if conditions change.

"We'll just leave all the cages in ready and I'm gonna leave my car packed because that doesn't need to be emptied. So we'll leave that packed in the car shed then it'll be easier, because you just don't know," Ms Jermyn said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs