"On Wednesday morning, we were honestly under the impression our house had gone."

Diarmuid Brazendale nearly lost his house to the blaze in Redwood Valley on Tuesday.

The trees and outbuildings on his property were destroyed by the fire and in their place was just scorched earth.

"Our house is surrounded with black," Brazendale said.

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Firefighters stood outside protecting the house and kept the flames away, he said.

Brazendale was allowed to visit his property under escort to check on animals later that day.

To have no land was upsetting, but they were so appreciative to the firefighters to have a house, he said.

"My 12-year-old girl was evacuated in a hurry and that's hard as a dad to see your kid frightened.

"You want to protect them."

But they were safe, which was the most important thing, he said.

Countless numbers of friends had offered to take their family in, he said.

Tight-knit village split up

It's been almost 24 hours since Amby Cowe packed up her three young children and evacuated their Wakefield home, among hundreds of people evacuated as the
devastating Tasman district wildfires continue to rage south of Nelson.

But as she holds her youngest, 18-month-old Fergus, she says she isn't worried about her own home.

She's worried about her community.

"It's not the fire that's worrying me. It's our little village - it's all split up."

After earlier evacuations of rural residents in valleys including Pigeon, Redwood and Teapot, the emergency grew yesterday when it was decided the settlement of Wakefield, home to 3000, was at risk and would be evacuated in stages.

Amby and Matt Cowe and children Jody, 10 and Fergus, 18 months, after being evacuated from their home in Wakefield, which is threatened by the Pigeon Valley fire. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Amby and Matt Cowe and children Jody, 10 and Fergus, 18 months, after being evacuated from their home in Wakefield, which is threatened by the Pigeon Valley fire. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Residents from 860 homes were among those told to leave yesterday. Cowe and her kids left their Pitfure Rd home about 2pm, before a compulsory evacuation.

As Cowe gathered with more than 100 others at a public meeting in Appleby School this morning, the 37-year-old could see her local dairy owner, and her daughters' Wakefield School friends.

And she hoped the community would soon be reunited.

"We're feeling a bit displaced. We're feeling a bit strange without our village. We're a very tight-knit community and it's just strange to be away from all those close friends. We're all over the place."

In the meantime Cowe, her husband Matt and their kids are staying with Cowe's parents in Upper Moutere.

Little Fergus was unperturbed by the expected visit with grandma and granddad, but his older sisters, 7-year-old Shelby and 10-year-old Jody, were finding it a bit tougher, Cowe said.

"[We're treating it] like a bit of an adventure. We're just reassuring them. We've told them the emergency services need to get us out of the area so they can drop water on our house."

As for herself, the experience was more stressful than scary - there were some big decisions to make in a short amount of time.

"Not knowing when to leave, what to take? Do we pack in preparation for losing the house, or for just going out for a night?"

Seven-year-old family cat Tink couldn't be found, but she was confident the independent moggy would be able to feed herself on mice and would steer clear of danger.

The family couldn't take their fish tanks, and Cowe made the decision not to take too many things. Clothes for a couple of days, food and hard drives of photos were the main priorities.

That was a deliberate decision, she said.

"Nothing overly sentimental. I felt that if I started looking around I would just get more and more things."

The mail gets through

The mail arrived for Redwood Valley evacuee Sally Kelly today - and with it some good news.

"Four days' worth of mail and no bills - so that's good."

Kelly is among thousands of Tasman district residents forced to leave their homes as wildfires south of Nelson enter their fifth day, and she was among those given their mail by NZ Post at a public meeting in Appleby this morning.

Her home in Red Stag Lane is safe, and Kelly is confident it will remain so, but she's looking forward to again sleeping in her own bed.

"It would be really nice just to be able to go home. I do understand everything, but it's starting to wear a bit thin now. We've been out since Tuesday, it's now Saturday."

Redwood Valley evacuee Sally Kelly with her dog Mana, and the mail she was delivered at the community briefing at Appleby School near Nelson. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Redwood Valley evacuee Sally Kelly with her dog Mana, and the mail she was delivered at the community briefing at Appleby School near Nelson. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Kelly, her husband, their Belgian Shepherd dog Mana and three cats are staying with family in Ruby Bay, but the couple had to leave their 14 sheep behind. She had been told the sheep had water, and also that they were fed last night.

"[That's good] because there's nothing in the paddocks."

She described most of the official response to the fires as fantastic, but communication had been patchy.

They had almost missed an escorted visit to evacuated properties, happening upon it by chance, because no one told them, Kelly said.

"I know Wakefield overtook everything yesterday and I know they're all still co-ordinating but it would be a help to get a bit more ... co-ordination and communication."

Support crew for firefighters

Wakefield resident Shelley Sims dropped everything to help with support on the home front as wildfires south of Nelson blazed.

On Wednesday, Sims found herself urgently packing lunches for the firefighters who would be spending hours in the air tackling the blaze from above.

Sims is a wholesale specialist at FreshBake in Brightwater.

There was a lack of staff rostered on in the bakery because it was a statutory holiday, and they needed to complete the work within a 50-minute window, she said.

"So I grabbed a customer who took their jacket off, washed their hands, and went out the back and started wrapping stuff.

"We couldn't have done it without him, 100 per cent."

Fire near the Redwood Valley home of Sally Kelly before evacuations earlier this week. Photo / Supplied
Fire near the Redwood Valley home of Sally Kelly before evacuations earlier this week. Photo / Supplied

Sims would find herself with another helper yesterday as her 6-year-old daughter was unable to attend school.

About 7pm she told the Herald her family was preparing to leave their home on Hooper Place, and it seemed like they were among the last to go in their area.

There were lots of helicopters and small planes flying over ahead. Sims likened it to a "war zone".

About 120 police assisted with the initial evacuation in Wakefield.

Earthquakes, now fire

Justine Sharp has already lived through earthquakes in Christchurch and Wellington but described what unfolded as a being like something out of M*A*S*H*.

"Massive bits of ash" floated in the air as police went door to door evacuating residents.

Their efforts were bolstered by New Zealand Defence Force troops.

Sharp had two young daughters to pack up.

Her eldest daughter, 8, is scared of fires and told her mum it had been hard to sleep when there was so much "commotion" going on.

"We're trying to keep calm for our kids," Sharp said.

"You can't hide everything from them. They will want to know when they can go back to school.

"They were so excited to go back to school. We've tried to make it sound like an adventure."

Former firefighter shocked by scale of fire

Bob Croy was also among the masses of people who have been evacuated from Wakefield.

Croy lives on a hill on Hunt Terrace and witnessed the initial Pigeon Valley blaze tear up the hillside like "wildfire".

"It was absolutely horrific."

Being a retired firefighter, he knew what they were going to come up against, he said.

Croy has had to cut a fence line that separates him from the neighbours to let the cattle on his lifestyle block through to a safer area.

"I personally didn't think it would come to this."

About 150 firefighters are still battling to gain control over the blaze that has torn through forestland.