Tasman fire fears fanned by strong winds

Firefighters are continuing to fight a massive blaze in the Tasman District, which is entering its sixth day.

Sunday will be a challenging day with winds of up to 50km/h expected to fan the flames.

What you need to know:

 

  • A prepare to evacuate notice is in force for Wai-Iti residents
  • Pigeon Valley and Wakefield residents have been asked to evacuate
  • The Pigeon Valley fire has now grown to 2300 hectares
  • Schools in Wakefield have closed
  • A welfare centre set up in Wakefield has been moved to the Saxton Stadium in Stoke
  • Two men were hospitalised between Thursday and Friday; both have been discharged
  • A man was arrested for disorderly behaviour during a police operation
  • There are concerns dry weather could make the situation worse

These live updates have now ended.

4:30pm -

The FENZ spokesperson added that they were feeling much better in the battle to get the fire under control.

"There's two things that drive us," he said. "One is wind - we're frightened of it - and the other is time.

"I don't want to smile too much but I’m feeling much better."

4:05pm -

At a media briefing, a Fire and Emergency NZ spokesperson described Sunday as "a very productive day".

He said the weather outlook has improved over the next few days in the interests of battling fires.

He was also encouraged that that may mean they'll be able to focus their efforts on other parts of the blaze, rather than just the southern part, which was a major threat to the Wakefield community.

3:25pm -

A controlled burn was carried out in the Redwood Valley this morning, to stop potential fires as spreading easily.

The land owner gave Civil Defence permission to burn through some foliage on his property.

2:20pm - 

A relief drive has been set up at Blue Heron lounge in Waimea, just outside of Wakefield. Volunteers have been sorting through donations of food, clothing and toys for the community.

Tasman fire fears fanned by strong winds
Photo credit: Newshub/Grace Cocker
Tasman fire fears fanned by strong winds
Photo credit: Newshub/Grace Cocker

1:30pm -

Dry weather will continue this week, according to MetService.

"A couple of weakening fronts are expected to move over the country, but they are unlikely to bring any significant rain to places that need it," MetService meteorologist Stephen Glassey says.

At this time of year, storms coming down from the tropics can sometimes be a source of rain for New Zealand. However, there isn't any indication of that happening anytime soon.

"There are some active storms in the tropics, but they should remain well north of New Zealand this week and won't have much impact on our weather," says Mr Glassey.

1:00pm -

Animals in the affected area are being looked after by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the SPCA and Massey University Response.

"The welfare of animals in these areas is their top priority," a release from Civil Defence says.

MPI has had teams since the fire began conducting animal relocations or evacuations.

There is a team caring for evacuated animals at the Richmond Showgrounds animal welfare centre where there is housing, food, water and blankets.  People are encouraged to bring their animals there.

MPI teams are also going beyond the cordon, when it is safe enough to do so, to check on animals and make sure they have enough water and are not suffering.

If you are worried about your animals in the fire-affected area you can contact MPI on 0800 008 333 (option 4).

Some residents have expressed concerns about the effects of smoke inhalation on their pets and livestock. MPI has advised that current smoke levels are not considered unsafe; however if you have a pet or livestock in distress, please contact your usual veterinarian.

SPCA enters the cordon.
SPCA enters the cordon. Photo credit: Newshub/Grace Cocker

12:00pm -

A controlled burn-off is taking place around Redwood Valley, according to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).

It will create a firebreak 2.5km long and 50m wide at the northern perimeter of the fire at the head of Redwood Valley, above Heines, Johnsons, and Cut Hill Road.

The controlled burn-off is a method of fire suppression used to suppress large vegetation fires by starving it of fuel, FENZ said in a statement.

The burn-off is expected to be complete by early afternoon.

11:20am -

Police are investigating two fires in the Tasman region believed to be intentionally lit.

A statement from police says one of the fires was on Rabbit Island on February 6, and another on Iwa Road on February 8.

Both fires were brought under control quickly. However, resources had to be deployed away from fighting the Pigeon Valley fire.

The fire on Iwa Road spread quickly up the hillside and had the potential to place lives and properties at risk, police say.

"In particular, as part of our investigation we want to identify and speak with three males seen on a bench on the centre of New Zealand track in close proximity to Iwa Road, around 1:30pm on Friday."

They are described as Caucasian, between 16- and 20-years-old. Two were possibly wearing baseball caps and one had fair hair.

This afternoon Police will visit properties in the Iwa Road area and neighbouring addresses looking for any witnesses and gathering any information from the public.

Police have urged the public to phone 0800 08 02 09 to report any suspicious activity on Rabbit Island on February 6, or around Iwa Road on February 8.

Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously.

11:00am -

Civil Defence has issued a reminder that there is a total fire ban in place for Nelson-Tasman.

An emergency directive was issued this morning to prohibit activities that could increase the risk of fire breaking out in both Nelson and part of Tasman.

Businesses adversely affected by this directive should contact the Ministry for Social Development for assistance on 04 916 3300.

10:40am -

MPI said on Twitter it has received a number of offers to volunteer in animal evacuations, but cautioned this was best left to the experts.

People who want to help can call 0800 008 333 and use option four to register what resources they have to share.

10:10am -

 

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence says anyone who needs assistance from Work and Income can visit the Richmond Office before 4pm on Sunday and the call centre is open until 8pm.

9:50am -

 

A GiveALittle set up by New Zealand Emergency Services Solutions has raised more than $15,000.

"Our goal is to raise as much money as we can to distribute to our bush fire victims and our Emergency Services volunteer groups," the description says.

"Every donation received, no matter how great or small will be immensely appreciated."

9:20am -

 

MPI has released a bit more information about the animals involved in the fire.

"Where possible, animals are being tended to in place, which is less stressful for them. Crews are working behind the cordon where they can, taking food and water and in some cases bringing animals back to the Richmond Showgrounds," MPI response manager Charlotte Austin said in a statement.

"One of three farms in the area had its 150 cows and 50 calves moved to a less vulnerable part of the farm. From another property 10 pigs and piglets were rescued and taken to the Showgrounds, and household pets have also been taken there.

"We re-visited Redwood Valley yesterday when cordons were briefly opened to residents. We are confident that every one of the animals still in place in the valley has been accounted for, fed and watered, and is in a good state."

MPI said donations of food to the Richmond Showgrounds have been plentiful and there is currently no urgent need for more.

Anyone who is worried about animals inside the cordon or near the fires should contact 0800 008 333.

Two very cute doggos, one up against a fence awaiting pats.
Dogs at the Richmond Showgrounds. Photo credit: Newshub.

8:51am -

 

Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne said staff who are unable to work should contact the Ministry of Social Development.

He stressed the prohibition of using heavy machinery is in place to stop more fires breaking out in the region.

Mr Kempthorne asked anyone who is considering heading to Aniseed Valley or Lee Valley for recreational reasons to stay away.

The prohibition order does not cover residential areas, but Mr Kempthorne said people need to take a "really precautionary" approach.

He's not going to be using his mower over the next couple of weeks for fear of sparks.

8:47am -

 

The Ministry for Primary Industries has said its current concern is the welfare of animals.

A spokesperson said anyone concerned about their animals should take them to the Richmond showgrounds.

She said it's accepting animas of all sizes "from turtles through to horses".

8:40am -

 

Nelson police arrested two men on unrelated arsons on Saturday night.

A 24-year-old male was charged with two arsons that occurred overnight in rubbish skips behind restaurants in the CBD.

Another man was arrested for arsons that occurred in December.

Another civilian drone was observed outside the cordon area, the person piloting the drone was spoken to by police and stopped using it once asked.

The drone was not being operated illegaly.

New Zealand Police and New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) staff visited 170 properties in Wai-iti on Saturday night.

Police are investigating the fire on Walter's Bluff.

8:35am -

 

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) spokesperson John Sutton said Saturday was the quietest night since the fire began.

He said firefighters now have a control line completely around the fire, and they are in the best position they could possibly be before the wind.

Wind is expected to increase from early afternoon. Mr Sutton said he believes the firefighters can manage the fire in winds up to 50km/h, but if winds go beyond that they cannot put firefighters in front of the fire and it may also ground Wakefield.

Wakefield is okay at the moment, but Mr Sutton said it may get challenging if winds pass 50km/h.

The fire now covers 2300 hectares with a perimeter of around 25km. Mr Sutton said the fire is progressively moving down to the river flat, and he believes it will reach the flats today.

Mr Sutton said it's easier to fight fire on flats than a hillside, but it depends on if the winds allow people to be put in front of it.

The firefighters have very strong morale.

8:30am -

 

Civil Defence controller Roger Ball said fighting the fire on Saturday night went well and there were no further evacuations.

He repeated Saturday's concerns about high winds and said gusts of up to 45km/h are expected on Sunday. There are currently 17 cordons in place around Wakefield and other areas affected by the fire.

Managed convoys along State Highway 6 will continue throughout the day.

8:20am -

 

Officials are due to give an update on the fire at 8:30am.

Civil Defence said Pigeon Valley remains a very active fire area in an update 11pm on Saturday.  Hotspots have continued to hamper re-entry efforts in Eves Valley and Teapot Valley was due to be reviewed on Sunday morning.

7:50am -

 

With anxiety running high in Nelson, residents are being told to get back to basics and look after themselves.

Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson says get out and talk to people.

"Being with others is a key way of reducing stress and anxiety. Do your best to keep those physical things that maintain stress and wellbeing levels like sleep."

Mr Robinson said it's also important to keep an eye on children affected by the blaze.

"It's important for kids to realise that it's okay to feel scared, it's okay to feel worried and that adults don't always have all the answers."

Anyone struggling can call or text 1737 for support.

6:00am -

 

Farmers, contractors and anyone using certain types of outdoor machinery in part of the Nelson Tasman region will need to defer their activities because of the extreme fire danger, a statement from Civil Defence says.

One spark could be enough to cause a fire in these conditions, Civil Defence Controller Rob Smith says. 

He has issued a directive under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act that high-risk activities are prohibited in a defined area for the duration of the State of Emergency. 

Prohibited activities include those where metal meets stone: mowing, discing, harrowing, stump grinding and cultivation.  

Outdoor activities that can generate sparks or fire are also prohibited, and include gas cutting, welding, angle grinding, and all use of chainsaws and scrub/bar cutters.  

Commercial forest harvesting activities are also to cease. However, provision can be made for the loading and mobilising of harvested material from landings. 

Mr Smith said he was mindful that this would cause some inconvenience, but it was an essential precaution to help prevent more fires during the current period of extreme fire danger. 

"We are not expecting this directive to limit activities where there is adequate (pressurised) fire control available, or those activities not generating fire risk such as horticultural spraying or feeding stock.  

"Landowners should be aware that many activities on land can cause fires and people should take action and be aware of what constitutes good fire management protocol. For example, not parking vehicles on long, dry grass, disposing of cigarette butts inside your car, mowing domestic lawns, and making sure electric fences are not arcing." 

"We will be talking with Federated Farmers and other industry groups and local contractors to enlist their cooperation." 

The prohibition would be reviewed this coming Tuesday, when the present Civil Defence declared emergency is reviewed, the statement says.

Cease working area.
Cease working area. Photo credit: Supplied/Civil Defence

 

 

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