The mayor of Central Hawke's Bay has praised the firefighters battling to stop the tinder-box dry region from being engulfed by flames as "blimmin' legends".
Seven "long duration" fires have started in the region since Friday, with volunteers and professional firefighters battling extreme heat and lack of sleep, and there's little relief in sight in the forecast.
A taskforce, predominantly from Wellington, consisting of 38 firefighters, a mix of rural, urban and career firefighters, were on Wednesday evening being brought in to relieve crews.
Hawke's Bay fire Area Commander Ken Cooper said three of the seven were still active.
The active fires are:
- State Highway 50 just north of Tikokino,
- Mangatarata Rd, Waipukurau,
- Wakarara Road, off SH50 between Ongaonga and Tikokino
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Fire and Emergency New Zealand was continuing to fight the fire north of Tikokino with 30 firefighters on the ground plus five helicopter crews working on containing the fire's 20ha perimeter.
State Highway 50 just north of Tikokino was closed between Kereru Rd and Butler Rd but was expected to re-open late on Wednesday.
One home evacuated on Wednesday morning remained protected and no further properties were at risk.
The blaze flared up due to the strong winds overnight on Tuesday.
"These are all vegetation fires involving long grass, and slash. The fires are contained but they are difficult to access," Cooper said.
Across the board there had been more than 140 firefighters involved in fighting the fires and a majority of them have been doing long hours, he said.
"The firefighters are working in extreme conditions, with temperatures close to 40 degrees Celsius, and we are stretched," Cooper said.
He said the crew were all "extremely hardworking" but they could use a break.
"We expect to be working on the fires for another week at least. But the safety of the firefighters and the safety of the public is our number one priority."
The team was grateful to the Salvation Army, which had its trailer on site to prepare food for the firefighting personnel at Tikokino, he said.
He said the fire on SH50 had caused some "hot spotting".
"Strong winds, embers start small fires. We will be faced with some extreme conditions in the next 72 hours and we are aware of that, firefighters are extremely resilient."
Mike Harrison, chief fire officer of Tikokino brigade, said the brigade had a crew of 12 volunteer firefighters.
"We have been out since 7am yesterday [Tuesday] and we got home at 7.30 this morning [Wednesday].
"I have had no sleep. It's what we do and obviously when it comes to long duration events we are on call," Harrison said.
He said two of the 12, including himself, were self-employed, three were farmers and the others had jobs with different organisations.
"One of the farmers had to load stock truck halfway through fighting the fire," Harrison said.
"I've only done four hours work, which impacts customers as well."
He was out fighting fires from 12.30 to 10pm on Monday, and 7am to 7.30am on Tuesday to Wednesday.
"I haven't been to bed, you just have to get on with the job."
He said some of the firefighters' employers were taking the strain, but were really understanding about the volunteering.
"They understand that it's what we do."
Central Hawke's Bay mayor Alex Walker called the firefighters "blimmin' legends".
The CHB community would give out appreciation vouchers for the "amazing hard working fire fighters who have been doing incredible work keeping us safe lately", she said.
Principal Rural Fire Officer Trevor Mitchell said the summer had been a prolonged period of hot and dry conditions across Hawke's Bay, increasing the fire risks.
Central Hawkes Bay had been "especially" hot and windy with relative humidity well below 20 per cent, he said.
"These are really hazardous conditions," Mitchell said.
"We ask members of our communities to be as vigilant as possible," he said.
He urged people to think carefully about the weather and their environment before they undertook any activities which might spark a fire like ploughing, mowing, grinding and parking in long dry grass with hot exhausts.
"It only takes a spark to start a fire."