Some residents have been permitted temporary access to check on properties and animals affected by the Pigeon Valley Fire near Nelson.

Emergency Management group controller Rob Smith said residents in some affected areas were permitted temporary access to some properties Thursday evening, with support from Police and Fire and Emergency NZ.

Depending on progress with the fire and weather conditions Friday, it may be possible to access other areas. Residents will be directly contacted if this is possible.

Forty-four firefighters will be actively attacking the fire overnight in efforts to battle the Pigeon Valley fire, after it intensified due increased winds and low humidity.

The fire in the Tasman District has now spread to 1900 hectares. Photo / Tim Cuff
The fire in the Tasman District has now spread to 1900 hectares. Photo / Tim Cuff

This caused the perimeter of the fire to expand and FENZ are still determining the exact extent of this.

This resulted in further evacuations of approximately 25 more properties in the west side of Teapot Valley, on top of the 182 properties that were already evacuated.

"We will continue to create fire breaks on the perimeter using five bulldozers, four excavators, and three tankers to suppress any active fire within 10–30m of the perimeter from spreading," Civil Defence said.

"An additional three crews and heavy machinery will be arriving tomorrow to assist."

Teapot Valley Christian Camp director Paul Schutt has had two uneasy nights inside what was initially a cautionary cordon zone.

This afternoon police told him it was finally time to go.

He had spent the day helping a neighbour put out small spots of flames today, putting water through a weed sprayer.

"It was doing pretty well until the wind changed and then it was obvious our effort wasn't going to be any good, Schutt said.


"So we got out of there then."

Plumes of smoke could be seen from the fire in Pigeon Valley, Tasman. Photo / Supplied
Plumes of smoke could be seen from the fire in Pigeon Valley, Tasman. Photo / Supplied

His neighbour, who owns a big forestry block, was gutted, he said.

"That's his future livelihood.

"Nobody knows what is going to be there tomorrow.

"If it all goes up in smoke then it's going to be pretty tough for him."

Tasman District mayor Richard Kempthorne said he felt sorry for those who were being evacuated.

"I'm really sorry for the people involved and I know it's really stressful – particularly for people with horses or livestock," he said.

"But the authorities who are asking them to evacuate are thinking of their safety."
They were precautionary measures, he said.

"Hopefully this will short-lived and they will be able to get back in."

It had generally been a good day for firefighters despite the flare-up, he said.

"They have actually had a good day without too much wind, they have been able to have good effect with the helicopters and ground crews fighting the fire."

Kempthorne said firefighters were putting their resources to best effect and working their way in from the perimeter to keep a buffer in place for people.

Kempthorne said he was pleased the Government had decided to initially contribute $20,000 to the mayoral relief fund.

"It was really, really good of them."

Kempthorne said good communications lines were in place should the fire fighting efforts need more resourcing of any kind.

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence said the further evacuations are a precautionary measure because of the increased fire intensity they have seen this afternoon.

Police are assisting with evacuation and Red Cross are on the ground to support residents.

The Civil Defence Centre at St John's Church, Wakefield will now remain open until 8pm this evening.

Residents are advised to take animals with them, with some stock being accommodated at the Richmond Showgrounds.

Second blaze treated as suspicious

The second Nelson blaze at Rabbit Island is being treated as suspicious, officials say.

A community meeting was told today that it was "possibly deliberately lit", according to Civil Defence recovery manager Adrian Humphries.

The "sad part" is that four ground crews and three aircraft had to be redirected from fighting the massive Pigeon Valley fire to deal with it.

The Rabbit Island fire blazed over 10 hectares yesterday afternoon.

It has now been contained and mop up work is under way.

Police and FENZ are investigating the cause of the fire, which is yet to be determined.

The island should reopen to the public today, Humphries said.

However, firefighters are continuing efforts to contain the Pigeon Valley Fire.

There are now around 100 firefighters on the ground from Fire and Emergency NZ, NZ Defence Force and the Department of Conservation, as well as heavy machinery operators and air craft crew working hard to contain the fire.

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

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier praised firefighters tackling the "mammoth" Nelson bush inferno as a $20,000 relief fund was unveiled.

Speaking in Nelson, Ardern said an incredible job was being done by emergency services, she said.

"It is dry as a bone."

The area had not had anything but shallow rain since early October, she said.

Arden said she felt sure everything that could be done was being done.

"While I'm immensely relieved there's been no loss of life and want to thank all of those involved in tackling this immense fire, it's clear there are going to be some difficult times ahead until we get the fire fully under control and people back to their homes.

"I can only imagine how difficult it is to pack up what you can and to evacuate so I want to acknowledge the families who have had to do that – and I want to let you know we are here to understand how we can help in the days and weeks ahead."

Ardern said the focus remained on the "mammoth job" of containing and managing the fire.

Farmer who started fire 'mortified'

Meanwhile the farmer whose machinery is suspected to have sparked the devastating 1900ha Tasman blaze is "mortified", fire chiefs say.

FENZ incident controller John Sutton said it was almost certain the fire was the result of agricultural machinery.

The owner was "mortified", said Sutton who added it was a highly accidental event.

"A totally unintended consequence really."

Sources told the Herald yesterday that the fire was sparked by a farmer tilling dry fields at around 2pm up Pigeon Valley near Wakefield, about 30km south of Nelson.

Sutton said the blaze was still "out of control" and one property was confirmed lost to the fire, describing it as "terrible" news.

Sutton, who has flown over the area, had seen the fire brushing past homes, with house paint blistered by the heat, but the houses were otherwise unscathed.

While yesterday had been a good day, making progress in containing the fire, the firefighters had a lot of work ahead of them, with a forecast for high temperatures and winds looking ominous.

They are still officially saying the fire is "out of control", Sutton told residents at an emotional community meeting outside the fire cordon this morning.

There was work to still make a containment line around the fire, Sutton said.

"Wind is the enemy," he said.

He reassured residents he hadn't come in to "take over" but rather to offer support to the good work already happening fighting the blaze.

Twenty-two helicopters were now available for fight the inferno, he said.

"We have a big day on today - fortunately, the weather is in our favour."

Civil defence, fire and police representatives in Nelson. Photo / Chelsea Boyle.
Civil defence, fire and police representatives in Nelson. Photo / Chelsea Boyle.

Some firefighters were experiencing fatigue and they were trying to fly in more firefighters, he said.

Acting Tasman district police commander Zane Hooper said police were "very sensitive" to people being forced out of their homes.

Fire, police, and Civil Defence all reassured residents that evacuation was not a decision taken lightly, and they would get people back into their homes as soon as it was safe.

He said police had not received reports of looting, saying they had brought in 40 extra staff to man cordons, and carry out patrols and keep people and property safe.

Civil Defence recovery manager Adrian Humphries acknowledged to residents it had been an "awful time".

The fire was unprecedented for the region, he said.
When he talked about the efforts of firefighters, police, helicopter pilots and other responders, the crowd gave a round of applause.

There are reconnaissance efforts today to see where cordons could be eased or removed, he said.

About 235 homes have been evacuated after the blaze broke out. Photo / Tim Cuff
About 235 homes have been evacuated after the blaze broke out. Photo / Tim Cuff

However, the 400-odd residents evacuated should be planning not to get back home until tomorrow at the earliest.

If anyone needs access to their property – for livestock or other personal reasons – then they are urged to ring Nelson District Council to try and arrange some supervised access.

Difficult times ahead: PM

A $20,000 Mayoral Relief Fund for authorities battling the Tasman fire has been set up by the Government to help the community get back on its feet.

Speaking from the emergency co-ordination centre where the council and Civil Defence are leading operations, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were difficult times ahead for people until the fire is under control.

"I can only imagine how difficult it is to pack up what you can and to evacuate so I want to acknowledge the families who have had to do that – and I want to let you know we are here to understand how we can help in the days and weeks ahead."

Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government had confirmed an initial commitment of $20,000 to the Mayoral Relief Fund, which has been set up by Tasman District Council.

He said affected local authorities had significant discretion around how they chose to set up and administer a fund, and around the establishment of disbursement criteria.

Firefighters battle the blaze at it reaches the edge of a property. Photo / Getty Images
Firefighters battle the blaze at it reaches the edge of a property. Photo / Getty Images

The funds were in addition to other support that may be available from the Ministry of Social Development, Housing New Zealand and Ministry for Primary Industries, he said.

"[The] Mayoral Relief Funds provide an additional way to help communities get back on their feet after an emergency."

Faafoi said local communities and councils were best-placed to know exactly what they needed so this funding can be used.

For example, to meet the needs of affected families and individuals, community organisations or marae, Faafoi said.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said the firefighters had done a tremendous job with the priority of people first.

People with pets and stock were getting stressed and wanted to get back, he said.

Kempthorne said he was reactivating his mayoral relief fund and was going to call the family today who had lost their home.

"It's a real challenge for them."

They were not able to take things from the house, he said

Shelters set up for pets and others volunteer to help

Ministry for Primary Industries animal welfare officer Wayne Ricketts said officials were working on a plan to help get people back to properties to check on animals.

Animal owners with concerns over their animals getting enough feed, are urged to contact MPI.

If animals are burnt, owners are advised to contact a vet or MPI staff.

Some animals may need to be euthanised. A small mob of sheep had to be put down yesterday, Ricketts said.

Firefighters battle after a blaze forced the evacuation of residents of 170 homes in the Tasman district. Photo / Getty Images
Firefighters battle after a blaze forced the evacuation of residents of 170 homes in the Tasman district. Photo / Getty Images

Most of the residents at this morning's community meeting who asked questions wanted to know about getting access to animals and livestock – or why some roads are closed and not others.

Officials urged them to get in contact over individual access options, and again urged that the cordons were only there to keep people safe.

Non-profit group, Helping You Help Animals (HUHA) was busy last night and this morning setting up a temporary care shelter for dogs or cats, whose owners may have been evacuated from their homes and had nowhere to keep their pets.

Nelson's A&P Showgrounds had been given over to the group to set up the shelter with the local kennel club bringing in crates and supplies.

The trust's Carolyn Press-McKenzie said she had heard that some dogs had possibly been left behind "and obviously cats can be tricky in a situation like this – you can't always predict they'll be where they need to be".

There were also reports alpacas and goats were going to be brought to the shelter today.

Some horses were already at the showgrounds, having been evacuated earlier by their owners.

Press-McKenzie said the shelter would provide care for a few days and could also help with minor injuries to pets or wildlife "with anything serious going through the local vets".

A HUHA vet was also flying in this morning to help.

But ultimately Press-McKenzie didn't know how busy the shelter would get.

"Nobody knows whether it is going to be a false alarm or an overwhelming situation, so it is better to be over-prepared than underprepared," she said.

"We know from our experience with the Christchurch earthquake that everyone rallies and when help is needed it is not hard to find."

Nelson local Jonathan Hardwick had also volunteered his services yesterday. Owning a large van, he drove to the emergency centres to offer to help deliver supplies or move the belongings of people who had evacuated from their homes.

However, he said he wasn't needed and that relief efforts seemed to be keeping up with demand.

Victoria from Motueka, to the northeast of Nelson, has a day off today and has also put her name and phone number on a list of volunteers ready to help out today.

She'll jump in her car and help make sandwiches and food for firefighters and evacuees but said she hadn't got the call up yet.

Redwood Valley Rd resident Graeme Sutton was reluctantly evacuated on Tuesday night after noticing a "great plume of smoke ... shading the whole city".

"One or two farmers didn't want to leave," he said. "If I had a choice I would have stayed. You want to be there to defend it."

His family were grateful their house had been spared, he said. They had packed photos among their belongings in case they lost their home.

Tasman deputy mayor Tim King fled his home of 48 years as smoke crept closer, and he fully expected it to burn to the ground. Firefighters doused the fire just 5m from his doorstep.

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

David Horncastle lives in Pigeon Hill and his family home is next to a Carter Holt Harvey tree plantation.

"Last night the flames were really, really high. The wind was coming straight at our house but changed direction."

He recruited a friend to make a fire break with a digger in case the flames swung back at his property. They left the property again last night, uncertain whether it would be safe.

"At 8pm the helicopters get parked up, they can't fly at night and don't start again until 6am in the morning. If any fires spark up in the night then we are on our own so we are also evacuating."

Georgina Pahl and her family were instructed by officials to leave their home on Tuesday night, just as they could see the glow of the fire in the distance.

She, her husband, Grant, and their 11-year-old daughter, left their home near the Moutere Highway just before midnight, when the fire was about 2km away.

"There's people in far worse situations," she said. "There's people further up the road from us. I'm aware from verbal reports from others there are definitely people we know who have lost their houses and people up Redwood Valley have got a lot more to deal with than us.

"We have got away lightly at this point in time and there's a lot of people that still don't know what's happening."

The fire's growth slowed yesterday afternoon and fire crews were confident it could be further contained as long as the wind did not pick up again.

There was unlikely to be any help from the weather because no further rain was forecast for the bone-dry region, which has seen barely any rain in 40 days.

MetService meteorologist Rob Kerr said the area could get some rainfall on Sunday but the front heading there could lose its power before reaching Tasman.

He said January had been "remarkably" drier than last year. Only 6mm of rain had fallen last month, down from last year's total of 220mm when two tropical cyclones battered the country with rain and wind.

Civil Defence said as the fire is still vulnerable to changing weather patterns it will continue to monitor and respond accordingly.