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Nelson forest fires: Danger not yet over

Author
NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Monday, 11 February 2019, 8:31a.m.
A helicopter using a monsoon bucket is fighting the Tasman bush fires near Wakefield, Nelson. Photo / Leon Menzies

KEY POINTS:

  • 2500 to 3000 people have been evacuated
  • The fire is 2300 hectares and has a perimeter of 25km
  • 170 homes were on standby to evacuate overnight

It's day seven of the devastating forest fires south of Nelson, and for the around 3000 people forced to leave their homes because of the danger posed by the 2300 hectare fire, it's yet another day of challenges.

Another day of displacement as they seek shelter and support away from their homes and community, another day of uncertainty as those fighting the fires continue to battle to protect homes, another day of waiting to find out when they might again sleep in their own beds.

Yesterday, feared forecast winds of up to 50kmh failed to eventuate, and Fire and Emergency New Zealand incident controller John Sutton told Mike Hosking that meant for a productive firefighting day that included a successful controlled burn-off operation in Redwood Valley, designed to deny the fire fuel.

"I would like to hope that we have turned a corner. We have got through what was going to be a weather event for us."

He said the weather forecast is looking better for them today.

"I don't want to sound too optimistic but maybe we have turned a corner and some of the pressure has come off us."

The controlled burnoffs also played a key role in containing the fire, he said.

"That worked particularly well. It suited the circumstances in that particular area."

Sutton said they are looking at having more in other areas but said is it a complicated process.

He hoped by the end of today they might be able to strategically look at other parts of the fire, Sutton said.

"I'm feeling pretty good today."

Residents in Eves, Sunrise, Teapot and Pigeon valleys were also allowed on escorted visits to their properties.

But the emergency, which involved up to 150 firefighters on the ground and 23 helicopters in the air, was far from over.

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence controller Roger Ball said at a 4pm media briefing that, while there were no major developments, the risk remained high.

The blaze was about 2km from Wakefield late yesterday afternoon.

That ongoing danger meant the residents from 860 evacuated homes in the settlement, most of whom have been out of their homes since at least Friday, weren't yet allowed to return. New Zealand Defence Force daytime convoys along SH6 through the town are continuing.

"We do understand it's frustrating," Ball said.

Community meetings are planned today at 5.30pm at Appleby School and 7.30pm at Hope Community Church in Ranzau Rd.

Nelson Firefighters continue to try and keep the fires at bay. Photo / FENZ
Nelson Firefighters continue to try and keep the fires at bay. Photo / FENZ

In an Aniseed Valley paddock, Terry Coleman is among Wakefield residents forced to find shelter elsewhere. He's lucky - the 61-year-old and his partner, Lynn Wilson, own a self-contained caravan.

But the couple's home isn't far from the fire, and they're worried.

"Hopefully the landowner will let us stay here as long as it takes till we can get back home. If we've got a home to go to."

Coleman has his dogs and cat with him, but left two chooks and a rooster at a makeshift animal nursery being run by the Ministry of Primary Industries, the SPCA and animal charity HUHA at Richmond Showgrounds.

A firefighter's dog is also among the roughly 700 animals, including quail, chickens, dogs, cats and pigs, at the nursery.

A helicopter using a monsoon bucket is fighting the Tasman bush fires near Wakefield, Nelson. Photo / Leon Menzies
A helicopter using a monsoon bucket is fighting the Tasman bush fires near Wakefield, Nelson. Photo / Leon Menzies

Beyond the cordons, MPI were today able to reach Pigeon Valley for the first time in several days.

"Fortunately the fire hadn't reached any grazing areas or animals," they said in a statement.

Fire Breaks being implemented by subscribed burning to give a 50 mtr strip for a fire break. Photo / Video Grab
Fire Breaks being implemented by subscribed burning to give a 50 mtr strip for a fire break. Photo / Video Grab

Authorities also said donations to help those affected by the fires can be made to the Mayoral Relief Fund, through the Tasman District Council website www.tasman.govt.nz

The community was already stepping up - at the Nelson Suburbs Football clubrooms so many groceries have been donated that volunteer organiser Janine Thompson can't give a figure.

Deputy principal fire officer for the Nelson Tasman district, Robin Thompson (left), and his crews are working on creating 50m fire breaks to contain the flames.
Deputy principal fire officer for the Nelson Tasman district, Robin Thompson (left), and his crews are working on creating 50m fire breaks to contain the flames.

And the support isn't just about filling hungry tums.

"People come in in tears. Some need a hug, a cup of tea and to sit down before they can do anything.

"A lot are so distraught they don't know what they need. We'll walk around with them."

ON AIR: Mike Hosking Breakfast

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