12 Oct 2020

Lake Ōhau Road reopens with limited access after fire

3:11 pm on 12 October 2020

Lake Ōhau Road has been reopened to the public, but access to the fire-stricken village remains restricted to residents only.

Remnant framework of a Lake Ōhau Village home.

Remnant framework of a Lake Ōhau Village home. Photo: Supplied

The fire that started eight days ago destroyed 48 buildings, melted water tanks and destroyed power and water systems in the village, and also burnt through 5000ha of the Mackenzie Basin.

Fire and Emergency (FENZ) handed back the site to the Waitaki District Council and the civil defence team at midday.

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher said the village now held the unfortunate record for the most houses lost in a single fire.

He said FENZ was still monitoring hot spots but the risk of fire was reasonably low, which meant the early stages of recovery could begin.

Kircher acknowledged that for many, it would be a long road.

"We're looking at something like a year to two years for a fair amount of the rebuilding to happen. Equally, there's a ready-make house sitting in Timaru that was supposed to be on site but luckily hadn't quite made the deadline."

Kircher said there were five houses under construction at the time of the fire, some in the early stages of foundations for which construction would resume quickly.

Others were now just a pile of scaffolding, with the building gone.

The re-opened portion of the road went past the village towards Lake Ōhau Lodge and a number of farms, meaning they were now accessible, Kircher said.

The cordon remained at the village, for security and health and safety reasons, he said.

"As contractors start turning up to clean up and do repairs, they will be managed through the checkpoint, along with residents who will still be able to come and go."

Remnants of a Lake Ōhau Village home.

Remnants of a Lake Ōhau Village home. Photo: Supplied

Residents have been allowed into the village on a rostered basis to collect items from homes still intact, or sift through the debris of destroyed homes.

"To free up that access further, particularly those who want to move back into homes, there's still a bit to be done including cleaning up," Kircher said.

He said the village's water supply came from tanks which had melted and needed to be replaced.

"Fridges and freezers need to be cleaned out, and from an infrastructure point of view, water and wastewater need to be repaired and electricity restored to the village over this next week, and telecommunications systems - that might take some time as well."

He said roads and street lights were "pretty much fine" but there were a lot of road marker pegs heading into the village would have to be replaced as most had melted.

Kircher said the council team was working well and was co-ordinating with insurance companies. He predicted the rebuild would go smoothly.

"We definitely want it that way for the residents. We need to make it as easy as possible for them to get back on with their lives."

No caption

Photo: Facebook / Waitaki District Council

Waitaki Emergency Operations Controller Neil Jorgensen said contractors would have access from midday Wednesday.

He stressed the village itself would remain a dangerous site for some time and access would be for residents only.

In an update to residents yesterday, Waitaki Emergency Management said the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail was being repaired, and while it wasn't too damaged there were concerns about the trees nearby.

Water would take two to three weeks to be restored to the village, it said.

Waitaki District Council said staff along with Chorus and Network Waitaki had been assessing the damage to infrastructure and working to restore power services.

The emergency management said Network Waitaki had restored power to the main line from Ōhau Downs to the Ōhau Lodge but it would be some time before power was restored to Lake Ōhau village.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs