Lake Ohau fire: Residents remember survival one year on from night of terror

It's been a year since one of the country's worst wildfires tore through more than 5000 hectares, destroying 48 homes at Lake Ohau.

The alpine village is on the shores of the lake in the Mackenzie Basin - and while the community is starting to rebuild, the trauma from the blaze is still raw. 

Construction is nestled among the charred reminders of a night of terror. It's been 12 months since wildfires broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning, forcing residents to flee.

Hot, gusty winds fanned flames - an infestation of wilding pines the perfect fuel. 

"The magnitude of the fire and the devastation that it caused - no one could have gone through it alone. You needed your neighbour, you needed the farmer up the road. We needed each other," Lake Ohau Village resident Hugh Spiers says.

On Sunday, on the shores of Lake Ohau, residents gathered to remember and share stories of survival.

"Reflected on how grateful we really are that everybody came out of it alive," Spiers says.

"It puts you in a funny position. You come back here a year later but you remember the fire very vividly," says Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith.

Half of the small alpine village was wiped out. Spiers and his partner lost both their home and their livelihood.

"I'm very excited about our rebuild. We're allowed to reproduce what we had with a few tweaks," Spiers says.

The fire jumped between structures gutting some homes miraculously leaving others unscathed.

"It's been a pretty traumatic experience for not only the residents but also the firefighters who were carrying out the evacuations," Waitiaki Fire Station manager Michael Harrison says.

It cost $1.3 million to fight the fire. One year on the cause is still not known. The $100,000 mayoral relief fund plus donations has assisted the community.

"There's still a lot to rebuild, a lot of work to be done there, we will keep working with them as soon as we can get things back to normal as possible is when we will consider job done," Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says.

While the threat of another fire remains in the backs of the community's minds.

"You can't rip the soul of out a community because that's more than there and stronger than ever," Spiers says.

Their priority? To rebuild bigger and better.