Two Tararua District Council staff had a vital role to play in the management of the devastating forest blaze near Nelson.

Peter Wimsett, council's manager of strategy and district development and Peter Sinclair, plant and property group contracts supervisor, arrived to take up their duties on Monday, February 11, to help co-ordinate the logistics in the Emergency Operations Centre.

The Pigeon Valley blaze in Tasman District ripped through 2335ha, making it the largest fire in New Zealand in 64 years. At its height, 23 helicopters were fighting the fire and 3700 people were evacuated from their homes. And while people from around New Zealand were involved in fire management, Sinclair was the only one on day shift from out of the Tasman District.

Tararua District Council staff, Pete Sinclair, left and Peter Wimsett who were part of the emergency response team in the second week of the massive Nelson fire. Photo Christine McKay
Tararua District Council staff, Pete Sinclair, left and Peter Wimsett who were part of the emergency response team in the second week of the massive Nelson fire. Photo Christine McKay

Volunteer firefighter and council's water treatment staffer, Craig Brown and Clayton Locke, the deputy rural fire chief for Fire and Emergency New Zealand for Wairarapa and Tararua, were both deployed to fight the fire and returned late last week.

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"The first two or three days of managing the situation would have been hectic, but by the time we arrived systems were in place and it was a very well run response," Sinclair, who is also the Dannevirke Volunteer Fire Brigade chief, said.

Sinclair was the operations manager on the day shift, with the primary focus on trying to get people back into their homes and have utilities in place.
"The public were very understanding and Wakefield still had 300 households evacuated," he said. "By the time I left just 84 households remained evacuated."

Wimsett was the night shift intel manager.

"My role was to identify issues and advise the civil defence team, including fire and police," he said.

"I was able to analyse what was going on and to identify fires which were still burning. Even as I left 10 per cent of the hot spots outside the official fire area were still burning."

Wimsett had to identify risks which included weather patterns.

"The fire could have flared up and we needed to co-ordinate the re-evacuation if required," he said.

"There was a very high technical response to the fire and we were all highly trained. A fire is different from an earthquake, tsunami or pandemic, but there was plenty for us to learn, especially understanding how all the services interacted."

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Sinclair said this was an event which could quite easily happen in our district, but without the population base of that in Nelson.

"Fire operations used the same drones our council has and four of them went systematically around the 33km perimeter of the fire, they measured 600C of heat underground, 250 of those around the perimeter."