Hundreds of relieved Wakefield residents evacuated three days ago over fears the rampaging Tasman bush fire was heading towards them are today glad to be home.
Firefighters continue to battle the massive blaze from the land and air six days after it was seemingly sparked by a contractor ploughing a tinder-dry field.
Authorities today admitted that the fire, some 30km south of Nelson and largely burning in forestry plantations, is not yet under control and could take weeks – if not months – to put out.
At 4pm today, the 3000 residents of Wakefield got the news they were hoping for when Civil Defence controller Roger Ball gave them the green light to go home.
Jeff and Rose Wray were some of the first to return, escorted by police officers and soldiers who will patrol the town's streets overnight.
"It's good to be back finally… it's good to have a home to come home to," Jeff said, as helicopters buzzed up Pigeon Valley behind his house, where it all started last Tuesday.
"It's pretty hard on everybody in the community who had to leave.
"A lot of people didn't wanna go – us included – but you gotta do what you gotta do to try and help the emergencies services out who are doing their bit to make everybody safe."
It's a close-knit community, Rose said, and they've been leaning on each other for support.
Miles and Brenda Palmer didn't feel ready to be booted from their homes on Friday.
But today they were glad to return – along with their dogs Russell, Bertie, and Betty.
And they'll be more organised if they have to flee again. The suitcases are by the door.
"There's a lot of things you forget," Miles said. "We only thought we were going for one night. That's where people got caught out."
The first thing he did when he got home?
"Crack open a beer."
Phil Bell, owner of Four Square Wakefield, was relieved that the cordons were lifted.
The sudden closure was a shock, he said, but they've all rallied around.
"Lives are more important than anything else," Bell said.
The Wrays are thinking of others "worse off" than them. The community spirit is alive in well in Tasman, with offers of help pouring in to those affected.
Acting Tasman district commander Inspector Zane Hooper asked people who are not residents to stay away from Wakefield tonight.
The risk of being re-evacuated remains, Hooper said, saying it was a balancing act, keeping the community safe and letting people home.
He asked for people not to become complacent just because they cannot see flames and urged Wakefield residents to stay ready and be ready to evacuate again at any time.
Meanwhile, Jeff Wray was going to have a beer.
"It's a shame that it's happened, but it's been a dry region for a while, we just need a bit of rain now,"
However, there's no rain on the horizon, with forecasters doubtful of any drops in the next 10 days.
A team of volunteer firefighters from Canterbury who've been battling the blaze since Friday came off the hill after 6pm tonight.
They were sooty, sweaty, grubby and shattered when they spoke to the Herald in Brightwater.
They're on a five-day rotation, working gruelling 12-hour shifts.
"It's extremely physically demanding… all day," said Justin Gilmore from Sefton Voluntary Rural Fire Force in North Canterbury.
They've been using handtools, shovels, and hoses, along with heavy machinery to tackle the fire which is burning deep under the dry ground.
Diggers are churning over the charred ground before the firemen douse it down with water. But they're having to go back hours later, or even the next day, to check it hasn't flared up.
"It's just go, go, go," said Ewen Peat, from Bottle Lake Voluntary Rural Fire Force.
"By day five, we're going to be absolutely rooted."
But as Neville Barkhausen of the Canterbury High Country Fire Team said, the plight of the locals whose lives have been so disrupted is what keeps them going.
"Fire is so destructive. Those people have really felt the brunt of this and so that is the motivation for us," he said.
- Additional reporting Chelsea Daniels.