TODAY |

Live updates: Tasman firefighting outlook 'improving', wind speeds lower than predicted

What you need to know:

  • A large fire that started near Nelson on Tuesday afternoon has destroyed at least one home and resulted in thousands of evacuations.
  • The fire was declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and the status has remained.
  • A makeshift animal shelter has been set up for pets at the Richmond A&P grounds.
  • Evacuees are asked to register at the Civil Defence Centre at Saxton Stadium in Stoke, or phone 03 543 8400.
  • If you are in the fire area, you can email or send us photos to news@tvnz.co.nz.

4.44pm: Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne ends the press conference by telling media: "This is far from over.”

4.42pm: Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese says the emergency services response has been “exceptional.”

“When something happens in the district, the people in the city stand up as well," she says.

4.40pm: Police confirm investigations are ongoing into two fires on Rabbit Island and Iwa Road. 

4.37pm: Fire and Emergency NZ incident controller John Sutton says they are “having a productive day and there has been no extreme fire behaviour, unlike was expected this afternoon.”

Lower wind speeds are predicted for tomorrow, he says. 

“Our outlook is improving somewhat.”

“At the end of tomorrow, we might be able to look strategically at other parts of the fire.”

Wind speeds of 20 km/h have been recorded so far this afternoon, gusts a little bit higher, Mr Sutton says.

A different tactic was implemented today with a small controlled burn in the north-western area, he says.

4:24pm: Roger Ball, Nelson-Tasman group controller for Civil Defence says: "A focus this afternoon has been the operation to progress resident access to the properties in the four valleys - Eves Valley, Teapot, Sunrise and Pigeon Valley. This afternoon we undertook four consecutive, restricted residential access programmes. We express our huge thanks to the communities for their support and cooperation.

"General feedback was positive with residents relieved there were no significant issues with their properties." 

There are no temporary access options for Wakefield at this stage, he says.

4.11pm: Roger Ball, Nelson-Tasman group controller for Civil Defence says the operation is ongoing and there are no major developments to report at this time, although winds are picking up.

"FENZ will give and update on the fire situation. I understand you will be advised that the day has gone pretty well. However I emphasise that the overall assessment is that the risk remains high and that residents of all evacuated areas should expect to be out of their homes for some days to come," Mr Ball tells media.

3.43pm - There is a media briefing scheduled for 4pm, we'll bring you all of the information from that.

3.33pm - Tasman-Marlborough Fire also posted these photos of a controlled burn.

2.41pm - Tasman-Marlborough Fire have also appealed for volunteers willing to assist with a wide range of animals, currently being looked after at a safe location. Anyone who can help can go here to register.

2.35pm - Civil Defence posted this message on its Facebook page a short time ago

We understand it's frustrating for those of you that don't know when you will be able to return to your homes even temporarily. There is a lot to coordinate and consider and your safety is the number one priority. Thank you for your continued patience.

Here are the key points about access:

◦The priority for this operation remains the protection of life and public safety.
◦The responsibility of the cordons is with NZ Police, assisted by Defence personnel.
◦The decision to relax or tighten cordons is a multi-agency one.

Ideally, groups of residents will be allowed into an area at the same time. Criteria for entry include:
◦Removal/care of domestic pets
◦Care for livestock
◦To pick up essential items to enable a longer evacuation
◦One-off cordon access may be possible when urgent

For a cordon to open, several conditions must be met:
◦It must be safe to enter and entry will not inhibit any firefighting operation
◦There must be available personnel to monitor current fire activity including re-ignition potential, the presence of hot spots or fire forecasting
◦Fire and Emergency must be confident they can provide operational response if an emergency occurs, while not compromising the main firefighting effort

1.35pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had been told by Civil Defence that the wind was expected to pick up in coming hours.

However, good work was done overnight to contain the blaze and she was confident in the work of firefighters.

Speaking from The Big Gay Out, she told media "we continue now, I think, to do everything that we can and hope the weather plays ball."

The effort from volunteers had been "extraordinary", she said, and she also praised the patience of those affected.

Ms Ardern said she has repeatedly checked in to make sure the operation was well-resourced.

If crew working on the blaze needed more resources they would have it when they ask, she said.

12.25pm - A petition has been set up to stop a firefighter, who is helping fight the Tasman blaze, from being deported.

Steve Webster has been a member of the Nelson and Stoke Fire Brigades for a few years.

"The immigration people want to send him and his family back to England," a message on Change.org says.

If winds get too strong, fire crews may have to pull out and air crews could be grounded, FENZ’s spokesman says. Source: 1 NEWS

11.40am - Firefighters have started a controlled burn off as a method of fire suppression.

The method is used in New Zealand and internationally to suppress large vegetation fires to starve the fire of fuel to create a firebreak.

The controlled burn off will create a firebreak 2.5km long and 50m wide at the northern perimeter of the fire at the head of Redwood Valley, above Heines, Johnsons, and Cut Hill Road.

Fire and Emergency Incident Controller John Sutton is experienced with the method both in New Zealand and overseas. This morning, he determined this would be the right course of action to control the fire in the location.

"We have to do everything we can to keep the fire within that control line," he told 1 NEWS. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but I'm condident we've done as much as we possibly can."

Fire and Emergency NZ expect the controlled burn off to be complete by early afternoon.

11.15am - While they didn't contribute to the main fire, police said two Tasman fires believed to have been deliberately lit took away valuable resources.

One was on Rabbit Island, on Wednesday, and another on Iwa Road about 2.30pm on Friday.

Both fires were brought under control quickly utilising resources deployed away from fighting the Pigeon Valley fire, police said in a statement.

10.55am - Residents in the Wai-iti area have been asked to prepare to evacuate. Civil Defence said in a statement this was a precautionary measure to allow residents time to plan for an orderly departure should it become necessary because of the progress of the fire.

People who have returned to their property after being evacuated earlier are also advised to continue to be ready to evacuate if necessary. This applies to residents in all areas, particularly Mailing Road and Green Acres Road and Sunrise Valley.

All those who have evacuated are asked to register at Saxton Field Stadium, Stoke or ring 03 543 8400.

10.50am - Some residents have expressed concerns about the effects of smoke inhalation on their pets and livestock but MPI has advised that current smoke levels are not considered unsafe.

However, people who have a pet or livestock in distress are asked to contact their usual veterinarian.

People worried about their animals in the fire affected area you can also contact MPI on 0800 008 333 (option 4).

10.45am - Today, there are 155 firefighters on the ground, plus 23 helicopters and three fixed wing planes fighting the blaze.

There is some concern about predicted high winds this afternoon, which are expected to test the control lines.

9.45am - A Givealittle page set up to raise funds for victims and emergency services working on the blaze has jumped to more than $15,600 since yesterday when it was about $1500.

9.35am - Nelson City Councillor Ian Barker asked Nelson residents to be alert, not participate in activities that could be of risk and to report any behaviour that could be a fire risk by calling 111.

"On behalf of Nelson City Council I can say we are very grateful for all of the agencies that are putting in so much work."

9.30am - Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne asked people who would go up to Aniseed Valley or Lee Valley for recreational activity to stop.

"If people are wanting to go perch up on the hill and look, please do it somewhere else because that is in the rural area and the risk of fire is so extreme," he said. "That is a real concern for people that are living there so please just leave those area for the local residents."

Community meetings were held today to let residents know what's going on. Source: 1 NEWS

9.20am - Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said anyone running a business that may be impacted by procedures in place to prohibit some outdoor activities, including operating some heavy machinery, should contact the Ministry of Social Development for assistance.

"Just reiterating again that this is all about safety of people," he said.

The ban does not currently affect people in residental areas doing activities like cutting their grass, but Mr Kempthorne urged people to use common sense.

9.15am - "There has not been any mass animal welfare issues that we're aware of at this stage - that may change," MPI Response Manager Charlotte Austin said.

9.10am- MPI Response Manager Charlotte Austin said the organisation was working with the SPCA and HUHA with a focus on animal wellbeing.

She urged people to use the animal shelter at the Richmond A&P grounds.

In areas not yet deemed safe, Ms Austin said they will assist stock when they can. "We are doing what we can in the areas that we are able to."

9.00am - Police Detective Superintendent Peter Read said a drone user has been spoken to by police for flying near the fire area.

8.55am - There fire is now about 2300 hectares, with a perimeter of about 25km.

It is now less than 2km from Wakefield and is progressively moving down to a river flat area.

John Sutton, of Fire and Emergency NZ, said it will reach the river flat area today. But said "it's not all bad" and that the fire would be easier to fight in the flat area.

8.50am - If the winds get too strong air crew would need to cease for their safety, John Sutton, of Fire and Emergency NZ, said. The wind is predicted in the south-east.

8.45 - John Sutton, of Fire and Emergency NZ, said overnight was probably the quietest night since the beginning of the fire.

"We're in the best position we possibly could be to be prepared for this wind event," he said. "We have a control line completely around the fire now."

Wind was expected to increase from early afternoon which would test crews, Mr Sutton said.

8.40am - Civil Defence group controller Roger Ball said there was "particular concern" about gusty winds today, which are forecast to reach 45km/h.

8.35am - St John reported seven patients with "high needs" were self evacuated from the affected area as a precaution, Civil Defence Group Controller Roger Ball said.

Today's efforts on extinguishing the fire, he said.

There are 17 cordons in place and authorities are continuing to work on the convoys to allow pass through through the areas today.

Civil Defence is still urging evacuees to register.

8.30am - Civil Defence Group Controller Roger Ball said it was a good night last night, and there were no further evacuations.

The focus was on preparing people to move if needed, he said.

8.15am - Kind for Kids and Families in Waimea Village have set up a drop off zone to donate goods to families that had to evacuate with little warning.

They are asking for adult clothing and baby items among other things. 

8.10am - MPI and the SPCA are praising the efforts of staff and the many volunteers involved in the animal welfare response to the Tasman fires.

A makeshift animal shelter is temporarily housing hundreds of pets at the Richmond A&P grounds, as well as MPI staff tending to animals at their home where possible.

Crews are working behind the cordon where they can, taking food and water and in some cases bringing animals back to the shelter.

"With over 200 lifestyle blocks in the fire affected area of Tasman District, the animal welfare effort has been widely spread and the support has been very strong," MPI Response Manager Charlotte Austin said.

"This is an incredibly worrying time for animal owners in the affected areas. They are desperately concerned for their animals and livestock, and we are too," she said.

SPCA's Nelson centre had also been assisting with animal rescue and emergency accommodation since Thursday – they have helped a range of species including livestock and companion animals, SPCA chief executive Andrea Midgen said. 

8.00am - The New Zealand Defence Force will resume escorted convoys through the portion of State Highway 6 that runs through Wakefield township at 8am today. The convoys will run to 6pm.

This will allow access through Wakefield for residents who would otherwise not be able to get past cordons on Eighty Eight Valley Rd, Totara Rd, Church Valley Rd and Bridge Valley Rd.

People with stock to move on the south side of the SH6 cordon should join a cordon to transport animals to the Richmond Showgrounds where there is a makeshift animal shelter set up.

An emergency directive was issued this morning to prohibit activities that could increase the risk of fire breaking out in both Nelson and part of Tasman.

7.30am - Civil Defence has banned some activities in the Tasman area to reduce the fire risk.

Prohibited activities include those where metal meets stone: mowing, discing, harrowing, stump grinding and cultivation. Outdoor activities that can generate sparks or fire are also prohibited, and include gas cutting, welding, angle grinding, and all use of chainsaws and scrub/bar cutters.

Commercial forest harvesting activities are also to cease, however provision can be made for the loading and mobilising of harvested material from landings.

Areas affected are Nelson and the Waimea and Motueka valleys.

Civil Defence Controller Rob Smith says that one spark could be enough to cause a fire in these conditions.

The rule will be in place for the duration of the State of Emergency.

The fire continues to burn on its fifth day and wind is forecast to strengthen on Sunday. Source: 1 NEWS

7.10am - Overnight, police and New Zealand Defence Force personnel visited all residents in Wai-iti as part of the preparation for a possible evacuation.

"The co-operation and understanding received from residents at this time is appreciated," Nelson Tasman Civil Defence posted on Facebook.

People evacuating are reminded to make sure they have their pets with them, have cellphones charged to receive alerts, and to prepare essential items including food, clothing and medication.

“I’m worried about tomorrow, to be honest,” Fire and Emergency NZ regional manager John Sutton told reporters today. Source: 1 NEWS

7.05am - Yesterday, authorities said they were concerned about weather for today with winds expected to reach 50km/h.

Fire and Emergency NZ Incident Controller John Sutton said efforts to control the fire would be "in the hands of God".