Nelson fires could still be burning in March

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Key Points:

  • 2500 to 3000 people have been evacuated
  • Wakefield evacuees could be allowed to return home tonight
  • Fire chief warns blaze could still be burning in March

Wakefield residents who were forced to flee their homes to escape the fire risk could be allowed to return tonight, officials say.

But while weather conditions are slowing the fire from spreading the blaze is expected to still be burning in March.

Civil Defence controller Roger Ball said Wakefield residents could return home today, with the exact time to be decided at 4pm.

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However Valley area resident could not go home today as the fire there was “more complex”.

Zane Hooper, the acting police district commander, said police and the Defence Force were working to make a plan for residents to return to Wakefield, if it was still safe.

More advice would be provided at 4pm about what residents needed to know, as they would still need to be prepared to evacuate again if conditions changed.

Medically high-risk residents would not be able to return to Wakefield.

Hooper said it was a balancing act allowing 680 households to return.

Fire controller John Sutton said today was starting to look like yesterday “which we successfully got through”.

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Meanwhile Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne has thanked iwi for opening their marae to help.

“It’s really encouraging to know that we’re very close to Wakefield residents being able to return home.”

Fire will continue burning till March

Re-entry plans are also being considered for other affected valleys in the fire zone.

A total ban remained in place prohibiting the use of machinery.

Fire and Emergency’s John Sutton said the weather was co-operating and dew on the ground and higher humidity was restricting fuel for the fires. However, the fire was still not under control.

Last night was “probably one of the quietest nights” for firefighters, he said.

“I’ve got the feeling that we’re starting to turn the corner.”

However, Sutton said he expected firefighters would still be battling the blaze in March.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said this morning’s updates were really heartening.

For evacuated residents, he said, as soon as you can be back you will.

“It’s very encouraging a return is also being considered for the valleys in the fire zone.”

Offers of help to fight the fire had been received from overseas and people “from Northland to Southland” were coming to help.

Day seven of fire

Today is 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 2300ha 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.

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

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

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“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 Share on Facebook Share on Pinterest Show more Share on Facebook facebook Share on Twitter twitter Share via email email Share on LinkedIn linkedin Share on Google Plus google-plus Share on Whatsapp whatsapp Share on Pinterest pinterest Share on Reddit reddit

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.”

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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 Share on Facebook Share on Pinterest Show more Share on Facebook facebook Share on Twitter twitter Share via email email Share on LinkedIn linkedin Share on Google Plus google-plus Share on Whatsapp whatsapp Share on Pinterest pinterest Share on Reddit reddit

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 Share on Facebook Share on Pinterest Show more Share on Facebook facebook Share on Twitter twitter Share via email email Share on LinkedIn linkedin Share on Google Plus google-plus Share on Whatsapp whatsapp Share on Pinterest pinterest Share on Reddit reddit

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. Share on Facebook Share on Pinterest Show more Share on Facebook facebook Share on Twitter twitter Share via email email Share on LinkedIn linkedin Share on Google Plus google-plus Share on Whatsapp whatsapp Share on Pinterest pinterest Share on Reddit reddit

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.”

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