Fire and Emergency says Nelson's Lee Valley fire 'not yet controlled or contained'

A large fire near Nelson is continuing to burn and is not under control on Thursday morning, according to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).  

The blaze broke out in a forestry block on Wednesday afternoon in the Lee Valley near Nelson, but firefighting efforts were hampered by people flying drones in the area.   

The fire is estimated to have burned through five hectares of pine forestry at Lee Valley, leading to the evacuation of 11 homes nearby.  

Photo on Wednesday from the Nelson fire.
Photo on Wednesday from the Nelson fire. Photo credit: Newshub

In an update just before 7am on Thursday morning, FENZ said four crews of firefighters and two heavy machinery operators worked through the night.   

Fire and Emergency Incident Controller Steve Trigg said two urban crews were tasked with protecting structures while the two rural crews and the excavator operators were making fire breaks and control lines.  

The fire is "not yet controlled or contained", but there has been no reported damage to property overnight, aside from the forest itself, according to Trigg.  

FENZ confirmed seven helicopters will be back in the air on Thursday morning to resume the aerial attack after a drone significantly impacted operations on Wednesday evening. Excavators would continue making firebreaks.  

"Specialist forestry silviculture/firefighting crews would be on the ground, using thermal imaging equipment to identify hotspots and tackling each one with hand tools and hoses," FENZ said.   

"The command unit is also on-site and continuously staffed. All roadblocks remain in place and people are asked to stay away so emergency services are not delayed in moving in and out of the area."  

Trigg has also stressed that private drones must not be flown anywhere near the Lee Valley to avoid helicopters having to be grounded to avoid the risk of a mid-air collision.  

Assistant Commander Shaun Thornton said people need to think before sending drones up.   

"It could be catastrophic if a helicopter hit a drone, so that happened before I arrived but I understand the drone operator was located pretty quickly," Thornton told Newshub on Wednesday evening.  

Nelson-Tasman Civil Defence advises the civil defence centre at the Wanderers' Clubrooms on Lord Rutherford Drive will reopen at 8am.   

Reporter James Fleury told AM on Thursday morning the blaze hasn't spread any further despite the grounding of helicopters.   

"Pines are really common around the hills of Nelson and they burn quite easily but despite it not spreading overnight, this has not caused worry to go away for those Lee Valley residents worried about their homes," Fleury told AM.   

"Fortunately Fire and Emergency says the conditions are going to be favourable for firefighting today with light winds from the southwest but it's important to note that the top of the south particularly the Nelson region is unique for New Zealand because fires can flourish. It is the only part of the country that has a Mediterranean climate, it does not rain three to four times a week like other parts of coastal New Zealand so it's basically just bone dry."