Hundreds evacuated as Tasman fire rages on

What you need to know:

  • Around 400 people have been evacuated from more than 182 properties
  • Authorities say evacuations could stay in place for days to come
  • Milder winds meant firefighters could keep the fire contained overnight
  • An investigation is underway into the cause of the fire
  • Stock have been affected and 13 sheep had to be put down
  • One property has been destroyed by the fire
  • The fire on Rabbit Island is now out
  • Police are investigating what caused the Rabbit Island fire, as initial indications suggest it was purposefully lit.

Around 400 people have been evacuated from 182 properties, after a monster fire broke out south of Nelson on Tuesday.  

Civil Defence says one house has been destroyed and is assessing further properties. It's understood all those who evacuated have found alternative accommodation. 

Firefighters have been monitoring the huge forest blaze overnight and say it hasn't spread significantly, and the fire at Rabbit Island has now been contained. 

Most people have been evacuated from Pigeon Valley. 

The inferno captured on Wednesday.
The inferno captured on Wednesday. Photo credit: Supplied / Shaun Mahon
Smoke from the massive fire south of Nelson.
Smoke from the massive fire south of Nelson. Photo credit: Supplied

5:40pm: The Rapid Relief Team in the region have handed out over 700 free meal and nearly 1500 drinks to firefighters.

5:08pm: Approximately 25 properties have been affected by evacuations taking place in Teapot Valley. 

Civil Defence called this a "precautionary measure because of the increased fire intensity we have seen this afternoon" due to increased wind and humidity.

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence group controller Roger Ball said it was important to get resident's "out of harm's way".

Mr Ball said depending on weather conditions more flare ups may occur.

"There is no realistic propsect of rain in the immediate future."

Teapot Valley Rd cordon.
Teapot Valley Rd cordon. Photo credit: Newshub
Hundreds evacuated as Tasman fire rages on
Photo credit: Todd Flygenring

Police are assisting with the evacuations and Red Cross are helping residents affected.

The Civil Defence Centre at Wakefield's St John's Church will be open until 8pm, where people and their pets can find help with accomodation.

4.47pm: Civil Defence has confirmed more houses are being evacuated at Brightwater near the blaze.

Newshub understands police have arrived at the homes of residents and warned they must evacuate.

4.39pm: Westpac is offering financial support to Nelson residents who may have been affected by the fire.

"This is a worrying situation and there's likely to be a long recovery process ahead," said Westpac general manager Simon Power.

"We encourage affected customers to get in touch with us to see what we can do to give them a helping hand."

The support includes a temporary overdraft facility, suspension of principal loan payments for up to three months, deferred payment on business credit cards for three months and immediate withdrawal for term investments.

4.12pm: There are reports from the scene that flames have grown larger and more intense.

A fire and emergency spokesperson told Newshub the flames have intensified, but this doesn't necessarily mean the blaze has grown.

"Due to changes in the weather, areas that were already burning have intensified, but the perimeter is still the same."

When asked whether this was of concern, the spokesperson said it had not changed the fire fighters' approach, and that they were still monitoring the fire as usual.

The fire viewed from Teapot Valley
The fire viewed from Teapot Valley Photo credit: Supplied

2.49pm: The fire near Nelson has been reduced, now covering 1600 hectares, with a perimeter of 23 kilometres.

One hundred firefighters are on the ground, continuing to fight the fire. There have been no further evacuations.

Although the fire has not grown, Civil Defence warns the situation is still dangerous. Weather or wind changes could fan the flames.

Fire and Emergency NZ has been constructing chemical fire breaks with planes, as well as digging firebreaks and reservoirs for monsoon buckets.

The fire on Rabbit Island is out, and police are investigating its cause. 

A map showing the spread of fire near Nelson
A map showing the spread of fire near Nelson Photo credit: Supplied

2.15pm: Police confirm they are treating the Rabbit Island fire as suspicious in a written statement.

"Initial indications suggest the fire may be suspicious and police are working together with fire investigators to determine the cause of the fire."

Police are reassuring the community they are continuing to patrol affected areas, and maintaining a strong presence.

Anyone with information regarding the Rabbit Island fire is asked to contact police on 03 5453840

2pm: Civil defence recovery manager Adrian Humphries told Newshub the current fire in the Tasman region is larger than the 2017 Port Hills fires in Christchurch that destroyed nine homes.

1.58pm: Civil defence recovery manager Adrian Humphries told Newshub the rumour the fire on Rabbit Island was set deliberately has not been confirmed, but there is suspicion.

"It's not been confirmed, but it is quite possible that it was deliberately lit. So that's why the police are asking if anyone has seen anything suspicious," he told Newshub. "Unfortunately there are people who do things like that, and unfortunately, we don't always catch them."

1.21pm: Authorities now treating the fire on Rabbit Island as suspicious.

1pm: NIWA says fire investigators are "almost certain" the blaze near Nelson was caused by a spark from agricultural machinery being towed by a tractor.

Meteorologist Ben Noll also said Tasman had two consecutive days of 33 degree weather, the warmest on record.

The Nelson Tasman region also experienced extremely dry conditions according to the New Zealand Drought Index, which could have contributed to the fire.

12.40pm: Jacinda Ardern departs Nelson after visiting fire and civil defence teams. She commends the teams for their hard work, and says they have done "an incredible job."

Ms Ardern also mentioned the government assistance that has been pledged to help relief teams. She said the mayoral relief fund is there to "fill in any gaps" that may arise in funding, and that "If more is required; we stand at the ready as well."

11.57am: Greenpeace described the Nelson fires as the "tip of the ice sheet."

"Extreme and dangerous weather events like the fires, droughts, floods and storms we've seen more frequently here in New Zealand over the past few years are the tip of the ice sheet" said Greenpeace ambassador Amanda Larsson.

In a statement released on Thursday, Greenpeace said extreme and unpredictable weather will continue unless the world stops burning fossil fuels.

11.29am: Ms Ardern speaks to media about her arrival in Nelson, and told media she could see the fire was "significant" and Nelson was "dry as a bone" as she flew in.

She commented on police sightings of a drone in the area, and condemned the behaviour as "incredibly dangerous."

"The message is simple. If you have a drone, putting it up right now is incredibly dangerous and inhibits the job that needs to be done here. The sky needs to be left open for helicopters and fire and emergency to do their job.

She also declined the chance to fly in a helicopter and view the fire from above, saying she didn't want to get in the way.

"I would rather take a briefing on the ground than go into the sky, I don't want to inhibit [fire and emergency] doing their job."

10.58am: Jacinda Ardern discusses the fire with a local who says she was allowed back to her home for half an hour to check on her animals.

She told the Prime Minster all animals were fine, and her home was safe from the flames.

Jacinda Ardern addresses media in Nelson
Jacinda Ardern addresses media in Nelson Photo credit: Newshub

10.45am: Jacinda Ardern announces Government support for Tasman region, with support from Minister of Civil Defence Kris Faafoi and Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor.

Mr Faafoi has confirmed an initial commitment of $20,000 to the Mayoral Relief Fund, set up by Tasman District Council.

"Mayoral relief funds provide an additional way to help communities get back on their feet after an emergency," he said in a statement on Thursday morning. "Local communities and councils are best-placed to know exactly what they will need so this funding can be used, for example, to meet the needs of affected families and individuals."

10.40am: Police report sightings of a drone over the fire in Wakefield.  They request whoever is flying the drone cease immediately, as drone activity can stop all helicopters responding to the state of emergency.

"This is extremely dangerous and our priority is to ensure the helicopters can continue with their work" said a police spokesperson.

10.11am: Civil Defence reports no change to the fire area overnight. The bushfire is still covering 1900 hectares.

Firefighting crews from NZ Defence Force and Department of Conservation will join Fire and Emergency. The number of evacuated properties now sits at 182.

"We've had favourable weather and the fire hasn't progressed overnight," says fire and emergency incident controller John Sutton "We have around 100 fire-fighters, 22 helicopters and 2 winged planes currently working."

There have been no reported injuries, but one property has been destroyed.

The fire on Rabbit Island has been contained.

A photograph from Redwood Valley shows how close the blaze was to properties
A photograph from Redwood Valley shows how close the blaze was to properties Photo credit: Supplied/ Carolyn Smith

9.47am: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives in Nelson to address media regarding the fire.

8:15am - A police spokesperson said police will follow the advice of the investigators into the cause of the fire. He brushed off questions into whether police think it was caused by someone.

8am - Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne, Ministry of Civil Defence, Fire and Emergency and police held a media conference to update the situation in Pigeon Valley.

Mayor Kempthorne said Wednesday ended as a much calmer day in terms of wind, which made it more effective for firefighters to work with.

"We've got a couple of days of good conditions and hopefully fire-fighting will have good effect," he said. "Firefighters have done a tremendous job. I really appreciate how people have been respectful."

Evacuation will remain in place and will likely stay for a few days, he said, and authorities will be updating people in the area with new information continually.

7:05am - Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne said he's still concerned about the fire because it covers a large area, but he said it's now "relatively under control". 

On Wednesday ,13 sheep had to be put down, he said, which is "actually a miracle when you look at the fire and where it went through and what it could have done". 

"All it takes is for the wind to turn in the wrong direction for it to flare up again, so it was a good day yesterday, we had mild winds, and we're hoping for the same today."

He said the "best indication is that we're going to have light winds today and tomorrow so that's really good for the helicopters that are working and the fire crews". 

Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne.
Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne. Photo credit: The AM Show

6:45am - Roger Ball, Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Group Controller, told The AM Show the biggest challenge ahead is containing the fire, but he said Fire and Emergency NZ "made good progress last night". 

"The job for the response today is to firstly work on that fire through the efforts of that organisation but also to assist the community and those evacuated."

He said the New Zealand Defence Force will arrive with "three fire-fighting crews plus around 20 general purpose personnel and police are sending in extra personnel, so we're got a lot of extra resources coming in". 

He said he's "reasonably confident" that people in the area have been evacuated safely, and that those in surrounding areas have been warned.

Roger Ball, Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Group Controller.
Roger Ball, Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Group Controller. Photo credit: The AM Show

6:10am - Helicopters went through a changeover from the night crew to the day crew on Thursday morning, Newshub's Thomas Mead told The AM Show on Thursday. 

Firefighters managed overnight to stop the fires from spreading, "which is an impressive feat since they had no air support," he said. 

"There is a building that the fire came within just metres of so they have managed to stop if from destroying some properties, but they will be assessing the fire within the 1900 hectares.

"That is a huge area and it may be days before they can get it fully under control."

He said the fire stayed about the same size overnight. 

The smaller fire on Rabbit Island had around 23 firefighters on it and they managed to fully contain it so it's no longer a problem, after it burnt through about 10 hectares. 

Emergency services in Nelson.
Emergency services in Nelson. Photo credit: The AM Show

6am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to arrive on Thursday morning to speak to front line workers and residents waiting to find out if their homes are liveable. 

5:45am - Newshub's Edward O'Driscoll says efforts will ramp up on Thursday, as 48 people and 14 aircraft tackle the blaze which has ripped through at least 1900 hectares. 

Officials are hoping a break in the weather could be a golden opportunity to bring the fierce fire under control.

5:30am - Forecasters say no high winds are expected on Thursday, but there's also no significant rain on the horizon for at least a fortnight.

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday and Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi arrived in Nelson to assess the situation. 

The blaze, which could burn for days, was centred south of Nelson, and forced some farmers to shoot stock ahead of the flames.