New fire reported in Tasman district

2019-02-27 08:00:22

The majority of evacuated residents from the Redwood Valley fire can return to their properties.

Fire and Emergency said on Wednesday night all residents evacuated from Redwood Valley Rd and associated side roads could return to their properties immediately.

People had to be ready to evacuate again at short notice.

Residents at five properties on the Moutere Highway would not be allowed to return tonight as a precautionary measure.

Emergency services had communicated directly with these residents.

Cordons remained in place at the intersections of Maisey Rd and Moutere Highway, and Old Coach Rd and Moutere Highway.

Principal Rural Fire Officer Ian Reade said at a press conference in Richmond on Wednesday night that the fire was contained but not controlled.

Its perimeter on Wednesday night was about 4 hectares.

Reade said the alarm was raised in a 111 call at 1.22pm reporting a fire on the side of the Moutere Highway, one kilometre from the summit of the Moutere Hill.

Fire and emergency area commander Grant Haywood said the call was made early to evacuate the Redwood Valley community as a precaution. At one stage the fire was only one kilometre from Redwood Valley properties, he said.

A decision on whether to allow residents home was originally planned for 7.30pm but at 7.50pm a spokesman said it was still being decided.

Ninety-seven properties were evacuated around the Moutere Highway and Redwood Valley.

Inspector Dave Gibson of Nelson police said police were working with Fenz to look at the possible cause of the fire.

As the sun set over the Tasman district, the frustration was evident at a cordon on the Moutere Highway with some people annoyed they were unable to access their homes.

Gibson said emergency services were working hard to get the residents of the 97 evacuated properties along the Moutere Highway and Redwood Valley back into home.

"We are doing our best to try and get an indication of when we can get them back in.

"Our goal is to preserve life and ensure safety but we appreciate the impact this is having."

He said the evacuations had gone smoothly on Wednesday afternoon, with the support of search and rescue personnel and St John.

"We had pre-planned the Redwood Valley evacuations so that made a huge difference because we divided the valley into sections and smaller groups from there."

Gibson said a fire investigator would be travelling to Nelson from outside the region on Thursday to establish the cause, which was unknown at this stage.

He was unsure how long the investigation would take. "That will either confirm or negate if it is suspicious or not."We are pretty keen to get an indication, obviously."

The fire took hold in standing pine heading into grassland. Strong winds and low humidity made for challenging firefighting conditions.

By early Wednesday evening crews slowed the momentum of the fire, stopping it in grass at the foot of the gully where the fire began.

A combination of the ability to move crews and resources from fighting the nearby Pigeon Valley fire and the downhill direction of the initial blaze helped to contain it.

Helicopters with monsoon buckets were to operate until nightfall with crews and machinery on the fireground overnight. A firebreak was being bulldozed around the perimeter.

At its height, the fire had spread to around 7 hectares around the Moutere Highway.

Flames between 40 to 50-metres high were initially reported from the fire.

Do you have pictures or video of the fire? Email

A Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) spokeswoman said 16 fire trucks, support vehicles (pumps and tankers) were sent to the scene, along with seven helicopters and two bulldozers.

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence asked anyone who self-evacuated was asked to please register with the Welfare Centre at New Life Church, 85 Wensley Road, Richmond or call 03 543 8400.

Animal welfare organisation HUHANZ and volunteers had staff at the Richmond A&P Showgrounds tonight for any animals that require temporary shelter.

A Stuff employee who was preparing to evacuate says the firefighting efforts appeared to getting better.

"It definitely looks like it's died down. The smoke was all around the house but now if you go outside there's no smoke at all."

She said she was prepared to evacuate but wasn't required to yet. She said the fire looked like it was under control, but the wind was still strong.

Redwood Valley resident Beverly Frizelle said she had received an evacuation alert and along with her husband John, had loaded belongings in their vehicles and were preparing to leave home.

"It is quite smokey and there are flames, it's quite windy and that is the danger."

It is not the first time the couple have been evacuated from their home.

Frizelle told TVNZ, after the Pigeon Valley wild fire tore across the region in early February, that the fire came within a few metres of her home.

FENZ was maintaining cover for local stations in the event they need to respond to any other events.

Nearby residents should go to the Tasman-Marlborough Fire Area Facebook page for updates.

The fire was covering an area of 30 square metres and "spreading rapidly" at around 1:45pm. By 3pm, the area had grown to between 6-7 hectares.

The Moutere Highway had been closed.

A Redwood Park Rd resident has reported seeing smoke and flames burning heavily, north of Redwood Valley around Moutere on Wednesday afternoon.

It is understood to be outside of the original wildfire zone, north-east of Pigeon Valley, in a forestry area.

Police have put in checkpoints at the base of the Moutere hill on Moutere Highway, letting people evacuating out but not letting people in.

"The wind is coming in our direction [south of the fire] and you can start to smell the smoke. There's a moderate breeze [and] The wind is picking up."

"Looking at the fire, you can see where the old fire was about 500m to one kilometre away. It's outside the burn zone, a new fire."

He said the fire was partially in scrub and it looked like it was heading into the pine forest.

Orchardist Bill Lynch was first alerted to the fire while on lunch break at his Redwood Valley lane orchard."I had a call from my neighbour, they said are you aware there's a fire threatening your property?"

From the edge of the orchard, the smoke and flames appeared just a few hundred metres away.After first noticing the fire, Lynch said helicopters took about 15-20 minutes and were at the scene just before 2pm.By 2.40pm the fire looked to gaining ground though, and the orchard had to be evacuated

They've offered their well for the choppers to get water from, at about 2:40 they started evacuating.

He said after the Pigeon Valley fire, the family had only been able to move back into their house about a week ago.

Staff were off the property and they were heading off as well, just a week after being evacuated for the first fire.

Appleby School principal Justin Neal said pupils were being kept on the school premises while the situation was developing.

"We're holding the kids here and just letting the parents know that their kids are safe and that everythings okay - when they can, they can come and pick them up, because we're not sending the kids out into that area,"

"That's how it is at the moment - it is still all very new."

Barbara Grant, who owns Redvale Ridge bed and breakfast near the Moutere Highway, said the area was shrouded in smoke.

She said it was extremely windy, and they were waiting to see if they would be evacuated.

"We had a friend out of her house for 16 days (from the Pigeon Valley fire) and felt we had got off lightly. It seems like it could be our turn."

Grant said three Dutch tourists were staying at the bed and breakfast, but were in the Abel Tasman National Park on Wednesday.

Metservice meteorologist Angus Hines said Nelson is experiencing strong west to north west winds gusting in the 40km to 50km range.

The winds are expected to swing around to south westerly this evening, remaining strong before easing off over night.Conditions are set to improve for fire control over the following days with lighter winds forecast for tomorrow and leading into the weekend.

This latest fire comes just hours after the State of Civil Defence Emergency for the Tasman district fire ended, three weeks after the 2300ha blaze took hold in tinder-dry conditions.

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