An ancient native forest in the Waimea Plains, feared destroyed by the Tasman wildfire, has miraculously survived.
The blaze threatened five years of restoration work at the Eves Valley Scenic Reserve by student conservationists.
Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) lead tutor Geoff Button has trained 90 students there, restoring and protecting the area from pests and weeds.
"I was very frightened for this site, that we were going to lose the site".
His students were in contact with past students as they learned the reserve was in the path of the Pigeon Valley fire, eighty times the size of the Eves Valley reserve.
"They were contacting me saying 'what's happening? Is it burning down, what's going on?"
One of the students, Alfie Gillard, was helping fight the fire as it breached the control line.
"I was really worried about Eves Valley. It was just down the road and we weren't allowed to go any further".
The area became too dangerous and firefighters had to pull away, leaving the forest to defend itself.
Now a month on, the students have returned to the area for the first time to see what's survived and what's been scorched at the edges.
It's thought at least a third of the reserve has been burnt, but Department of Conservation Biodiversity Ranger Roger Gaskell says it’s a "miracle" the entire forest wasn’t lost.
While neighbouring pines have turned to charcoal, many native species have come through the flames, especially in the lowland part of the reserve.
"Some of the broadleaf species like ones that the ranger trainees have been planting, the pittosporum, and the five fingers, they're quite fire resistant. Kahikatea, totara, matai, that survives very well as well".
Mr Gaskell says there is a "fascinating opportunity" to observe and document the forest’s recovery and "increase our knowledge of what happens after a fire".
"If this forest had burned, it's beyond our capacity and our expertise to salvage it. While it's a tragedy that people have lost property, that can be repaired. But this would take hundreds of years and an enormous amount of resource. It's a taonga".