Tim King fled his Tasman home fully expecting it to burn to the ground.

Flames from the huge blaze raging in the Pigeon Valley came within 5m of his home, but he says he was lucky firefighters had managed to keep it at bay.

Civil Defence has declared a state of emergency in the region as 16 helicopters, planes and an army of firefighters work to control the 1870ha blaze.

King, Tasman's deputy mayor, made the decision to self-evacuate his home in Eves Valley yesterday after watching the fire spread.

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"Yesterday evening we saw the first of the smoke then a few hours later we noticed it was spreading faster."

When he was allowed to return home for an hour to survey the damage, he was surprised to find his house was undamaged. Firefighters had managed to stop the fire just 5m from his home.

"The fire crews did an absolutely amazing job," he said.

King and his family made the decision to self-evacuate early so were able to rotate livestock and move farm machinery out of harm's way on his 162ha.

"We lost quite a lot of pasture, but no loss of livestock," he said. "This time last night I did not think there would be anything there."

He was happy to have friends to help him move and noticed the community spirit of the region was in full force with offers of accommodation and supplies where needed.

"It's pretty humbling in a lot these events, last year [during Cyclone Gita], the same community spirit comes and offers assistance."

Following the Civil Defence declaration at 8am around 170 homes had been evacuated with the latest in the Pigeon Valley South area.

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Nelson Tasman Civil Defence said ground crews were in place in the Eves Valley, Redwood Park and Pigeon Valley areas and 16 helicopters were working to protect homes and manage the fire.

Bulldozers were also working on containment lines in key areas.

All residents evacuated or self-evacuated were asked to report to the Civil Defence Centre at St John's Church, Wakefield to register.

The centre can provide welfare information and help with accommodation for those who need it. Those who can't make it to the centre are asked to call 03 543 8400 to register by phone.