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More properties evacuated near Nelson as crews battle fire

This is 1 NEWS NOW's earlier live updates of the Tasman fire today, February 7. Click here for new ongoing live updates 

Have you been affected by the fire, or do you have imagery you'd like to share? You can contact us through our Facebook page here, email news@tvnz.co.nz, or use our story submission feature at the bottom of the 1 NEWS homepage.

5:50pm - Aerial shots from earlier today show the scale of the blaze and also just how close flames got to a number of homes.

5:30pm - A second rotation of New Zealand firefighters have been deployed to Tasmania to combat bushfires there. 

Fire and Emergency New Zealand said in a statement that they're confident they have the resources to fight the blaze in Nelson and even another large-scale fire elsewhere.

5:20pm - A Fire and Emergency spokesperson told 1 NEWS the increased intensity of the blaze is due to less humidity and stronger winds in the area but the perimeter of the fire remains the same at this stage.

5:05pm - Further evacuations are underway in the west side of Teapot Valley with approximately 25 properties affected.

Civil Defence say this is a precautionary measure because of the increased fire intensity this afternoon.

All residents who have evacuated or self-evacuated are asked to register with the Civil Defence Centre at St John’s Church, Wakefield to remain open until 8pm.

Residents are advised to take animals with them. Some stock can be accommodated at the Richmond Showgrounds.

Horses, sheep and goats can be accommodated in empty stables – use the Campground Gate to the Showgrounds and follow the road to the stable blocks. Please leave your name and contact number on the stable door and provide food for your animals. There is water available on site.

5:00pm - Grant Pearce, a fire scientist from the Scion Rural Fire Research Group, has made comment on the fires courtesy of the Science Media Centre. 

"The very hot, dry and windy weather over the past month has had a major effect on the drying of forest fuels in particular, including slash and prunings, understorey scrub vegetation, pine needle litter on the ground and organic material in the soil, which all contribute to the amount of vegetation fuel available to burn. These dry, elevated fuel loads contribute to easy fire ignition and spread, and to high fire intensities including crown fires that are very difficult, if not impossible to control, especially in steeper terrain often favoured for forestry plantings. Surrounding grass fuels are also dry, but the lower fuel loads mean that fires are usually easier to control once they spread out into these grass areas.

"Modelling of potential future changes in fire danger indicates that the number of severe fire weather days is likely to increase in many parts of the country. This includes the Nelson region, where the number of days of very high and extreme forest fire danger could increase to more like 12-13 days per year on average, and maybe 20-25 days in the worst years, with climate change."

4:15pm - Earlier, John Sutton from fire and emergency told evacuated residents that today was crucial with a forecast for tomorrow that is not good. Read more here. 

4:05pm - The smoke from the fire can be seen from space, as this picture shared by MetService shows. 

3:22pm - Moturoa/Rabbit Island and all of Rough Island has been completely closed off due to the extreme fire risk.

3:14pm - 
1 NEWS reporter Kaitlin Ruddock is on the scene at Forward Station, in Moutere, where she has taken pictures of a massive plume of smoke, where she says the fire is "escalating".

A large plume of smoke rises from the Pigeon Valley fire in Moutere. Source: 1 NEWS

A close-up of the smoke plume visible from Forward Station in Moutere. Source: 1 NEWS

2:40pm - Tasman Civil Defence has released a major update on the details of the fire:

- The fire now covers about 1600 hectares - down from 1900 this morning - and has a perimeter of about 23km - the same as this morning.

- About 100 staff are on the ground fighting the fire.

- The Rabbit Island fire is now out and an investigation into its cause is underway. The Island, along with Rough Island, are closed until further notice.

- No changes in the number of properties or residents evacuated, and the number of properties lost remains one.

Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Controller Roger Ball said "we've had favourable weather conditions for fighting the fire yesterday and today and the fire has not grown in size.

"It's important to note that the situation is still vulnerable to change if the weather conditions change," Mr Ball said.

"Today Fire and Emergency New Zealand has been creating chemical fire breaks with fixed wing planes, digging firebreaks with bulldozers and digging reservoirs for monsoon buckets on the helicopters."

2:30pm - Tasman District Council says it is closing Motoroa/Rabbit Island and Rough Island completely until further notice due to extreme fire risk.

"It's important we close these reserves to reduce the fire risk which could divert resources from the Pigeon Valley fire ... stay safe," they wrote on Facebook.

2.19pm - Police say initial indications suggest the fire that started at Rabbit Island yesterday may be suspicious. Police and Fire Emergency NZ are investigating. They ask anyone who was on Rabbit Island from about 2pm onwards yesterday or has any information that may assist the investigation to contact them on 03 545 3840.

1:36pm - A Nelson farmer has described smoke so intense that it sent wild animals running. Stewart Mitchell spoke to 1 NEWS about his escape from the fire, saying he saw hares and rabbits fleeing.

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Stewart Mitchell said the smoke was so intense it sent animals running from the fire. Source: 1 NEWS

"It was really intense you could probably only see about ten or fifteen yards in front of you," Mr Stewart said.

12:05pm - Animals are being evacuated just as people are, as 1 NEWS reporter Kaitlin Ruddock found out yesterday when she was allowed to come along with an SPCA contingent to rescue some chickens from advancing flames.

11:10am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken to media, giving a number of updates on the situation:

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The Prime Minister says she is sure that “everything that can be done is being done.” Source: 1 NEWS

- Fire authorities on the scene say they have all the resource they need right now to fight the fire.

- There is still room at the showground for stock to be relocated, if that is required.

- There is "a pot of additional funding" available to those who need it.

- Anyone considering operating a drone in the area should be warned: "putting it up into the sky right now is incredibly dangerous and inhibits the job that needs to be done here ... the sky needs to be left open for helicopters and FENZ to do their job and that is not helping."

Ms Ardern described the conditions as "dry as a bone" and said the region has not received any more than superficial rain since October last year.

"Flying in you can see the true scale - it is a significant fire," she said.

Ms Ardern said she was aware of the reports about what had caused the fire, and said an investigation will be conducted and handed over the police "if required".

She said she had been impressed with the attitudes of locals, saying it was clearly a strong community and that residents have been well looked after not only by authorities, but by friends and family.

10:42am - Police say they have received reports of someone flying a drone in the area of the wild fire in Wakefield, and have warned them to urgently cease doing so.

"Drone activity has the potential to stop all helicopters responding to the emergency fire situation," Police said in a statement.

"This is extremely dangerous and our priority is to ensure the helicopters can continue with their work."

10:25am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has arrived in the Tasman region and is assessing the situation at the Nelson Tasman Civil Defence centre.

The fire swept through the Redwood Valley area near Nelson. Source: 1 NEWS

10:00am: Tasman Region Civil Defence has issued its latest major update:

- The fire still covers about 1900 hectares and has a perimeter of about 22km.

- FENZ staff will be joined by firefighting crews from the New Zealand Defence Force and the Department of Conservation.

- The fire on Rabbit Island has now been contained.

- The revised number of evacuated properties now stands at 182, with about 400 residents affected.

- One home has been lost.

Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Controller Roger Ball said some residents may be able to be escorted through the cordon soon to assess their properties. There have been no injuries and no one is in danger.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand Incident controller John Sutton said there are around 100 firefighters, 22 helicopters and 2 winged planes currently working.

9:51am: The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has Tweeted satellite imagery from this morning, showing smoke coming from the Pigeon Valley fire. Winds are forecast to shift to the west overnight, they said, changing the direction of the plume.

9.33am: Civil Defence and Fire and Emergency New Zealand are maintaining a map showing the approximate area of the Pigeon Valley fire. The map gives a general overview of the area of the fire, but the accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be used for protection or critical decisions by those in the area. You can view the whole interactive map here.

A large plume of smoke rises from the Pigeon Valley fire in Moutere. Source: 1 NEWS

9.00am: Fire and Emergency New Zealand regional manager rural John Sutton has told Stuff that the perimeter of the fire did not expand yesterday, but that there was "significant internal burning".

"When fire goes through the landscape, it doesn't go with a ... clean sweep, it goes rapidly in some places and a lot slower in others so you end up with large islands of unburnt fuel that's still actively burning and they are a threat depending on how far they are from the perimeter," Mr Sutton said.

8.28am: Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne will be reactivating the Mayor's Release Fund last used during Cyclone Gita.

He will today be trying to call the residents who lived in the one confirmed lost property.

He says the family couldn't get home and have lost all of their personal possessions.

FENZ members dampening down hot spots at the scene of a wild fire near Nelson. Source: 1 NEWS

8.22am: Police acting area commander Inspector Zane Hooper told media that if people who have been evacuated have genuine concerns about their property or animals, they should call Civil Defence on 03 543 7290.

"People, please do not approach cordons," he stressed. "Stay out of operating area where Fire and Emergency New Zealand staff are working."

Mr Hooper said no areas are currently being considered for evacuation, but people nearby should remain ready to evacuate at short notice.

There are no estimates yet on the value of lost forest, property or the cost of the response.

8.05am: Richard Kempthorne has been speaking at an official update, where he hailed the efforts of fire crews, and said the focus remained on keeping people and then property safe.

The evacuation order remained in place, despite people being eager to get back to check on stocks and pets.

Stables at the A and P showgrounds in Richmond have been opened to look after some animals, Roger Ball, Civil Defence Incident Controller, said.

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Damian O’Connor told Breakfast the fire has burnt through 1900 hectares and one home. Source: 1 NEWS

John Sutton from Fire and Emergency NZ said the weather was good for fighting the flames. They were looking to "harden" the perimeter, as they worked strategically to take back control.

He said the fire was still out of control. 

"At this stage I couldn't say we have any sense of containment."

Mr Sutton confirmed the very likely cause of the fire as being sparks from agricultural machinery.

It is "almost certain", adding a tractor was towing in a rocky field at the time and its owner is "mortified". Fire and Emergency says it was accidental, with totally unexpected consequences.

8am: 1 NEWS' Nelson reporter Kaitlin Ruddock went with emergency crews and SPCA Nelson as they carried out an animal rescue.

Here's a 360 degree video she captured. 



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