Wellington Scoop

Return home for remaining 250 people evacuated from Tasman wildfires

Report from RNZ
The remaining 250 people who were evacuated because of the Tasman wildfires have been told they can return home today. The residents are from 83 properties in the Redwood, Teapot and Eves valleys.

The decision applies only to residents of the valleys, and anyone going back home must remain ready to evacuate at short notice, Civil Defence Controller Alec Louverdis said.

Many of those now allowed home were at a community meeting in Hope last night – the sixth such meeting since the fire broke out two weeks ago.

Principal Rural Fire Officer Ian Reade said the risk remained that the fire was still burning underground. He said just because there was no smoke, did not mean there was no fire.

“There’s still the chance that in the heat of the day, when there’s wind blowing, for the fire to come up out of the ground and if it climbs up through the trees … there’s still a lot of fuel on top that can burn. If that happens it can cause a crown fire and that stretches the control lines we have in place,” Mr Reade said.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said those returning home to the worst affected areas would be going home to a changed landscape. He said Redwood and Eves Valley looked very different, with grass and trees gone.

Report from RNZ – February 19
The State of Civil Emergency in the Tasman region has been extended for another week as authorities continue to deal with the large bush fires.

Mayor Richard Kempthorne has made the decision, saying: “The situation still requires a greater response than we could manage without all the assistance of the other agencies. We still have 250 people evacuated from their homes and there are over 3500 who are in a continuous state of alert, prepared to evacuate again at short notice.”

Mr Kempthorne made the decision after discussions with Fire and Emergency, police, the Civil Defence Controller and other agencies involved in the response to the Tasman fires.

A statement from Nelson-Tasman Civil Defence said all agencies were “very aware” of the fact people had been out of their homes for two weeks. “This is leading to anxiety and stress, not to mention the economic impact on many.”

Controller Roger Ball said: “Everyone has been actively planning for the day when we can allow residents to return home for more than a few hours. That involves a continuous assessment of risks, including the fire, the weather and the ability of our emergency services and Defence Force personnel to get people out safely and quickly if the situation deteriorates.

“I am very pleased to say that we are working towards a conditional re-entry for the residents of Teapot, Eves and Redwood Valleys from Thursday morning. This will be on the same basis as the other returned residents – that they remain ready to evacuate again at very short notice. Getting these valley residents back to their properties is more complex than when we were able to get the Wakefield residents home.

“The Redwood, Teapot and Eves Valleys have all been directly affected by the fire.

“We will be offering a detailed briefing for the valley residents at tomorrow evening’s community meeting at the Hope Community Church, and I encourage as many as possible to attend this.” A community meeting will be held at 6pm tomorrow at the Hope Community Church in Ranzau Rd to discuss health and safety information for anyone returning home. It will also be live streamed on the Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Facebook page.

Smoke rising from the bush fire area at Pigeon Valley. RNZ photo.

Report from RNZ – February 17
Residents of the 14 evacuated Pigeon Valley properties are today allowed to return home. But Redwood, Eves and Teapot Valley residents will have only restricted access to their properties between 8am and 2pm today.

Pigeon Valley residents have been granted conditional re-entry – meaning they can return home but must be prepared to evacuate again. The access to Pigeon Valley is for residents only and police will be manning checkpoints to enforce this.

Civil Defence Controller Roger Ball said residents of the remaining 84 evacuated Valley properties can return home for six hours today.

The additional two hours of access was given to those residents as it was likely they won’t be able to visit their homes tomorrow, due to forecast high winds and low humidity.

“The decisions around access were made after advice from Fire and Emergency New Zealand and Police, taking into account fire behaviour, weather conditions and the ability to re-evacuate residents at short notice if necessary,” Mr Ball said.

Report from RNZ – 15 February
Residents of about 40 more properties in the fire-affected valleys of the Tasman District have been allowed back home this morning. Regional Civil Defence controller Roger Ball said that left 94 valley properties still cordoned off. He said residents of those properties should plan on being away from home until at least the end of this weekend, possibly longer.

Report from RNZ – 14 February
Residents at the southern end of Pigeon Valley, evacuated in the Nelson area bush fires, have been allowed to return home this morning.

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Roger Ball said police were able to lift a cordon at 8am to allow the 200 residents of 74 properties to back to their houses.

More than 370 residents in the region remain out of their homes, with 138 houses still off limits.

This morning, residents at the Wakefield end of Pigeon Valley Road and the south end were given the all clear to return to their properties, but warned to be ready to leave again if necessary.

The north branch of Pigeon Valley road was still cordoned off, but Mr Ball said temporary day access had been extended another two hours, from 8am to 12pm, so residents could care for animals and do farm maintenance. The extended hours applied to properties on Pigeon Valley Road beyond the intersection with Pigeon Valley South Branch Road and homes in Golden Hills, Eves Valley and Teapot Valley.

Visits for Redwood Valley residents will still be limited to two hours, because conditions are too volatile, and there are risk factors such as trees that needed to be taken care of.

On Monday, hundreds of Wakefield residents were able to go home.

RNZ photo

Report from RNZ – February 12
The first group evacuated from the Tasman fire won’t be able to return home tonight, Civil Defence says. Civil Defence briefed residents at the Tasman District Council office in Richmond at 4pm.

About 500 people who were evacuated from the Teapot, Eves, Redwood and Pigeon Valleys last week were told restricted access only is to continue.

The state of emergency has also been extended.

Civil Defence fire controller Jim Frater said a large team was working on assessing conditional entry for residents of the valleys, however, it was a complex process.

“At the moment, we cannot confirm when the conditional entry process for the valley residents will begin. But this afternoon our specialist teams will be beginning the risk assessment checks for each property. There are about 200 properties to look at individually so it will take some time.

“We’ve got a helicopter going up at five [pm] … and that will speed up the process. In the meantime, we will continue to enable restricted access on a daily basis as long as it is safe to do so.”

He reiterated that the use of outdoor machinery is banned in all of Nelson and most of the Tasman region.

Fire and Emergency NZ fire controller Trevor Mitchell crews had a “good day on the hill” getting through hotspots.

“The fire still remains uncontained and still has got the potential for reburn which is is why we are still working with Civil Defence on when we allow people to go back home. For us and our crews our resourcing levels have remained the same it’s business again tonight and business again tomorrow and it will probably be the same the day after that and the day after that.”

Earlier Report from Nelson-Tasman Civil Defence
FENZ resources working overnight on the Nelson fires included one drone team (four drones), 85 fire personnel consisting of 14 vegetation crews and 11 structure crews, nine excavators/bulldozers and two tanker crews. The crews are managing remaining hotspots – close to roads in Pigeon Valley, Redwood Park Road, Red Stag Road and Eves Road.

Things went very well overnight regarding the return of residents to their homes in Wakefield. But this access is conditional on the fire situation and people should be ready to evacuate again should the call be made. From 7am today, the township will be open for business when non-residents will be able to enter the town.

There were light showers during early hours of the morning.

Hundreds evacuated from valleys south of Wakefield still aren’t able to return home. Fire crews are assessing trees in the fire zone as well as the stability of some buildings. The area needs 75 millimetres of rain for the grass to change colour, but none is apparent on the 15-day radar.

Everyone is reminded that there is a complete fire ban in place throughout the region. A ban on the use of machinery that could trigger a fire is still in place.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has been working with the SPCA National Rescue Unit, Massey University, HUHANZ on a coordinated animal welfare response to the fires. There are currently around 700 animals at the Richmond Showgrounds in the care of MPI, SPCA, HUHANZ and other fantastic volunteers.

Animal welfare officers were posted at the cordons at each of the four valleys that were evacuated as residents were allowed into their properties to check on their animals. Where needed, officers and vets have visited properties to assess concerns for those residents and arrange resources i.e. water and extra feed. Officers have also been working with property owners who have contacted MPI to ask for help.

Report from RNZ – February 11
Wakefield residents were allowed to go home today. At a briefing this afternoon, civil defence controller Roger Ball said enough progress had been made against the bush fires threatening the town for the past week to let people back to their properties.

“Police have been able to get their staff into position earlier than expected so we are comfortable if residents want to return immediately. The immediate return is for residents only.

“I must emphasise that returning residents must be prepared to evacuate if conditions change. There does remain an element of risk and that’s something for all of us to keep an eye on,” Mr Ball said.

“There will continue to be a high police presence throughout Wakefield, monitoring the return and ensuring the safety and security of Wakefield’s residents and their property.”

Fire and Emergency New Zealand fire controller Trevor Mitchell said his team had done a good job containing the fire. “Our guys have done some great work in reinforcing the lines around the fire and we are comfortable at the moment for the Wakefield community to go back.”

Escorted envoys on SH6 ceased at 4pm and the road was available for normal traffic from that time. Congestion was anticipated so the speed limits were reduced.

Police say spray paint on the windows of houses in Wakefield was put there by police as a marker to show the property had been evacuated; the paint can easily be removed with a razor blade or paint scraper, and they ask residents to do this as soon as possible.

“We are still actively planning for valley residents to return home. We are not able to say exactly when that will happen,” Mr Ball said. This was because the area was affected by fire.

Earlier Report from RNZ
Acting area commander for Tasman Zane Hooper says the police are finalising plans for the potential return home of Wakefield residents this evening. He stressed that the public should not enter the Wakefield area before instructions were provided at 4pm. “People will not be allowed into the area if they are not residents.”

When a decision on the possible return is being made, safety will be the main consideration … including fire behaviour, the weather, the ability of the emergency services to evacuate the town safely and quickly should conditions change. If all the criteria are met so that a decision is made at 4pm, Wakefield residents will be able to return from 5pm today.

Firefighters are optimistic they may finally be able to bring the fire in the Tasman district under control today. Further evacuations are highly unlikely.

Fire and Emergency incident controller John Sutton said it felt like they may have turned a corner, and they would know by the time it gets dark tonight whether or not that’s so. He said if the wind didn’t get any stronger than forecast, fire crews should be able to control the fire. The fire has been burning for nearly a week and 3000 people remain evacuated – most from the town of Wakefield.

Hot dry and windy weather is expected for the Nelson-Tasman region for at least a week.

Escorted convoys along State Highway 6 through Wakefield resumed at 6am and will run on-demand until 7pm as conditions allow. They are for local residents only, to provide access to school and work.

News from Nelson-Tasman Emergency Group
A combination of benign weather and outstanding fire management has seen the risk posed by the Pigeon Valley fire significantly reduced for some areas. In light of an assessment overnight, Civil Defence and partner agencies are actively working to allow Wakefield people back into their homes.

“This decision does not mean the fire is out. Nor is it controlled. Firefighters will continue to be in the field for weeks, if not months, and there is still an extreme fire risk for the whole region,” Incident Controller Roger Ball said.

However, Mr Ball said the risk for Wakefield had been assessed after a productive day and night and favourable weather with higher humidity which has helped the firefighters as they work to contain the blaze. They have made significant progress to reduce the risk from the fire, including the construction of primary and secondary fire breaks.

The areas of Eves Valley, Teapot Valley, Redwood Valley and Pigeon Valley are also being actively assessed.

The programme of determining restricted access to those valleys continues this morning and public meetings for residents will go ahead as planned for 5.30pm (Appleby School) and 7.30pm (Hope Church).

Mr Ball thanked residents for their patience and acknowledged the multiple agencies working on the response.

“We believe the best place for people in this situation is in their own home so that is what we are working towards.

“The fire is not contained yet and the situation could change very quickly – that is why if re-entry occurs it will be conditional. We are still assessing the risk to the valleys. The total fire ban and the machinery ban continues.”

“If a decision is made to allow people to go back into Wakefield, it would be subject to conditions. We expect all houses to have their ‘go-bags’ by the front door for the future. All residents must be ready to evacuate should the situation change.”

Mr Ball said Fire and Emergency and the New Zealand Police were working through plans to facilitate this access if given the go-ahead. “Residents can choose not to go home, however, it’s good to give people the option. Likewise, livestock can stay at the showgrounds for the time being.”

Report from RNZ – February 10
Evacuees in Nelson and Tasman will have to stay out of their homes for several more days, despite better conditions in the fire zone today. It had been feared winds of 45-kilometres an hour would test control lines and threaten property, but they reached only 20km/h.

During this afternoon’s Civil Defence briefing, Nelson Tasman Civil Defence group controller, Roger Ball, said on the whole the day had gone pretty well. “However I emphasize that the overall assessment is that the risk remains high and residents of all evacuated areas should expect to be out of their homes for some days to come. We will of course continue to assess the situation constantly and we will update residents and the community with information as it comes to hand.”

The fire is now within 2km of Wakefield and covers 2324 hectares with a perimeter of 27km. A state of emergency is still in place. There is a control line around the fire made up of bulldozer lines, roads and river bed.

Report from Fire Emergency NZ at 5.15pm
Sunday has been a productive day with less wind than forecast. A successful controlled burn-off operation was carried out in Redwood Valley, which will offer protection to that area should the wind shift to the south again.

The focus this afternoon has been the operation to progress residents’ visits to properties in the four valleys – Eves, Teapot, Sunrise and Pigeon. We undertook four consecutive restricted residential access programmes. A huge thank you to the communities for their support and cooperation. General feedback was positive with residents relieved that there were no significant issues with their properties.

There were some challenges with the Pigeon Valley programme given the dynamic nature of the fire at the location. The additional complication of the State Highway cordons through Wakefield caused a delay for some residents and we will be working to resolve this issue for future access.

Unfortunately, there is currently no temporary access possible for residents to return to properties in Wakefield. This is because of the risk presented by the fire and wind conditions in Wakefield. We are working through some options to offer restricted access – this will depend on the availability of resources and the behaviour of the fire.

Thanks again to everyone who is offering support through financial donations. Please direct all donations through the Mayoral Relief Fund which can be accessed through the Tasman District Council website, as this is the secure, official channel. You’ll find more information at www.nelsontasmancivildefence.co.nz

Community meetings
We will be holding two community meetings tomorrow evening – Monday 11 February.
5.30pm at Appleby School
7.30pm at Hope Community Church Ranzau Road

Animal Welfare
Today we entered Pigeon Valley for the first time in several days. Fortunately, the fire had not reached any grazing areas or any animals. We also had assisted access to parts of Teapot Valley, Eves Valley and Redwood Valley. Approximately 100 sheep were evacuated from Eves Valley. We fed and watered as many animals as we could in these areas. This afternoon we’re assisted with emergency evacuations in Wakefield for high priority animals. Our teams are on standby to assist with any further evacuations. Where possible, animals are being tended to in place, which is less stressful for them.

More than 300 animals are now being cared for at the Showgrounds, where a there is housing, food and water. Animals of any size can be brought directly to the Showgrounds to be looked after by the amazing team of volunteers. People have been visiting the showgrounds to look at the animals. This can be a hindrance for the teams looking after animals and moving animals onto the site. If you don’t have anything to do with the animals, please stay away.

Earlier Report from RNZ
Wind gusts of up to 45km/h, expected today in the Tasman district, could worsen the fire conditions south of Nelson.

About 3000 people have been evacuated from Wakefield and the Eves, Teapot, Redwood and Pigeon valleys and emergency services have put 400 residents of Wai-iti on notice for possible further evacuations today.

Civil defence controller Roger Ball said it was a good night last night, “there were no major issues … and no further evacuations”.

There is now a control line completely around the fire – made up of bulldozer lines, roads and river bed. There are 150 firefighters on the ground today, with 23 helicopters and planes.

Mr Ball said the focus for today will be on trying to put out the fire, though he was concerned about the winds forecast.

The fire yesterday moved closer to Wakefield and is now 2km from the town, on the river flats, where it is easier to fight the fire. Active hotspots in Eves Valley continue to hamper efforts for re-entry. Pigeon Valley remains a very active fire area.

Animal welfare charity Huha is operating a large, ad-hoc animal shelter at the Richmond A&P Showgrounds for pets and livestock that cannot be cared for while their owners are in emergency accommodation. Its vets and volunteers are looking after more than 350 animals, from sheep, pigs and horses through to dogs, hens and roosters.

RNZ photo

Report from RNZ – February 9
The bush fire raging southwest of Nelson grew to about 2100 hectares yesterday, with a 27km perimeter. It is not yet under control. An estimated 3000 people have been evacuated from threatened areas, most of them from 860 properties in the town of Wakefield.

Firefighters are concerned about 50km/h winds tomorrow which will put the situation “in the hands of the gods”, Fire and Emergency incident controller John Sutton says.

About 120 police officers and Defence Force personnel have been patrolling the main areas that were closed overnight. Police asked residents to respect all evacuated areas and cordons and reiterate that nobody should be travelling in or around those areas if they do not have a specific reason to be there.

A media briefing this afternoon was told by the regional manager of Fire and Emergency NZ that the fire had moved about 2km closer to Wakefield today on to the Wai-iti Flats. One advantage of this was that the lower scrubland was shorter so it was easier to put out any fires and that was “what was happening at the moment”. It had been a “fairly intense” day. Tomorrow’s forecast with wind predicted between 40 and 50km/hr means the situation remained volatile.

Around 85 percent of a control line around the perimeter of the fire was now in place and they would again be using drones at night to record heat levels and look for the 30 metre interior containment that signalled a reduced danger of flare-ups.

In Nelson city, thirty-five people were evacuated from near Walters Bluff after a second fire broke out there. The fire was however brought under control and evacuees were allowed to return home.

Report from RNZ – February 8
The fire burning southwest of Nelson has grown to a total of about 2000ha, with smoke problems preventing access for firefighters to some of the blaze.

Forty-four firefighters battled the Pigeon Valley blaze overnight and five bulldozers, four excavators, and three tankers were used to suppress any fire within 10m to 30m of the perimeter from spreading. An additional three crews and heavy machinery will be arriving today to assist.

Civil Defence say weather conditions were favourable overnight but predicted wind changes later in the day may change this situation.

A school and early childhood centres in Wakefield have been closed after worries that a change in wind direction may put the settlement in the path of the Tasman bushfires.

Residents were evacuated from Teapot Valley last night. There were no evacuations for Pigeon Valley and Arnold Lane overnight, although a number of people did decide to leave on their own.

News from NZ Police
Residents of Pigeon Valley are being asked to leave their homes due to the weather conditions and heavy smoke. Pigeon Valley residents were given an early warning to prepare for evacuation and are now being asked to leave. People are asked to report to Wakefield Civil Defence Centre or report to Civil Defence on 03 543 8400.

Police are working with all agencies to conduct this evacuation and ensure residents are safe and informed. Extra New Zealand Defence Force personnel are assisting NZ Police with evacuations. All residents are asked to continue to follow advice issued by Civil Defence and take all precautions.

Report from RNZ – February 7
Civil Defence has confirmed one house has burned down in Redwood Valley, as crews work to contain a large blaze that broke out in Tasman on Tuesday. Civil Defence said the fire covered about 1900 hectares, with a 22 kilometre perimeter.

Some 235 properties were evacuated in Tasman last night as crews worked to contain the large blaze.

The favourable weather and the fire’s behaviour were helping crew to contain the blaze. The Tasman District Mayor, Richard Kempthorne, said the fire was becoming more manageable. But evacuated residents need to stay away from their properties even if it looks safe, because the wind can change and become dangerous, he said.

Emergency services will hold a community meeting at 9am this morning to update Moutere Valley residents. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, will be attending – Appleby Rural Fire Station on the corner of Cotterell Road and SH60.

There are 48 people, 14 aircraft and 10 pieces of heavy machinery involved in the efforts to fight the fire.

Teapot Valley south of Nelson is being evacuated as firefighters battle to bring the fires in the area under control. Fire crews have been working continuously to try and contain the large fire in Nelson that broke out on Tuesday afternoon. Nelson council said evacuations are now underway in the west side of Teapot Valley, affecting about 25 properties. The council said the evacuations were a precautionary measure because of the increased fire intensity seen this afternoon.

About 400 residents have been evacuated. One home has been lost and several others damaged by the fire’s intense heat. Cordons remain in place at a number of locations.

Pigeon Valley residents told to prepare for evacuation

Residents say blaze is “another class altogether”

News from NZ Police
Police and Fire and Emergency NZ have attended the scene of yesterday’s fire on Rabbit Island. Initial indications suggest the fire may be suspicious and Police are working together with fire investigators to determine the cause of the fire. Police and FENZ have commenced an investigation and Police ask that anyone who was on Rabbit Island from about 2pm onwards or has any information that may assist the investigation to contact us on 03 546 3895.
This number is only to report activity about the Rabbit Island fire. Please do not use this number for other purposes.

Police would like to reassure the community that we continue to patrol affected areas and maintain a strong presence in the community day and night. We ask that people remain vigilant and report any suspicious or concerning activity to Police on 111.

Report from RNZ – February 6
Extreme dry conditions in Tasman and a dwindling water supply are adding to the problems facing fire fighters as they battle a huge Nelson bush fire. The fire grew to 1870ha within 13 hours overnight, destroying homes and prompting at least 170 houses to be evacuated.

More than 100 homes have been evacuated in Eves Valley, Golden Hills Road, Redwood Valley Road, Mallings Road and Greenacres Road.

It’s not known how many homes have been destroyed because the worst-affected areas are still too dangerous to reach.

The 1900ha fire this afternoon remained out of control in an area of the Moutere Basin, and has burnt a large area of forest owned by Tasman Pine Forests.


The Tasman District Council imposed water cuts on homeowners and farmers recently due to the near-drought conditions.

Incident controller Ian Reade said water points in forest areas were replenished last week as a precaution, but getting enough water now was a problem.

“We’ve also got bin trucks so we used trucks that are used in the grape industry for instance. So we use those as a static water source and then we can cart water to them from wherever we can get water from but yes water is one of our challenges.”

MetService said no rain was expected in the region today although locals reported light showers this morning with temperatures cooler than in recent days. The wind was expected to pick up this afternoon.

As well as the main blaze, two other fires were reported this afternoon on Moturoa Rabbit Island, a popular beach and recreation area. But by late afternoon the fires were said to be largely under control.

Nelson Mail: Wildfires in pictures


  1. Greg O'Connor, 9. February 2019, 9:54

    Newlands and Tawa volunteers heading to Nelson to help out; that’s a big sacrifice for those going and also the families and colleagues left behind, not only to fill the gaps but also knowing there’s some serious work and potential danger for those heading down. That’s commitment. [via twitter]

  2. Joyanna Winn, 10. February 2019, 22:01

    We live in Spring Grove, (Arnold lane). The wind is going in the opposite direction. The fire that everyone is concerned about is at section Zulu which is Pigeon Valley. The fire is many many kms away from us. Why are we unable to go home when the neighbours across the road in Telenius are still allowed to be there?? Soo frustrating. [via Facebook]

  3. Ian Sutherland, 10. February 2019, 22:03

    It’s great to have a couple of school options so people can go to work ,but people cannot get home to get uniforms or tools and gear. When we were asked to go, the general talk was it would be an overnight thing – am glad they are now telling people to prepare for up to a week. Frustrating times for self employed people. [via Facebook]