Key Points:

  • No change to the approximate fire area overnight, still covers 1900 ha, with roughly a 22 km perimeter.
  • FENZ staff have been joined by firefighting crews from the New Zealand Defence Force and the Department of Conservation. About forty police officers from Wellington and Canterbury arrived yesterday to assist with cordons and patrols.
  • The fire on Rabbit Island fire is contained with mop-up work now underway
  • 182 properties were evacuated affecting about 400 residents
  • One house has been destroyed

The Tasman fire "looked like an atomic bomb going off" when it ignited in the tinder-dry district, says a couple forced from their home.

David Vanstone and Fiona Thompson were evacuated from their 40.5ha Malling Rd farm about 11.30pm on Tuesday night after first noticing billowing smoke mid-afternoon.

A hot, dry "howling" southwest wind was fanning the fire towards them, he said, as temperatures reached above 32C.

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Read more: PM discusses Nelson inferno rescue package

The first plumes of smoke "looked like an atomic bomb going off", Thompson said.
"It was like a big mushroom. It was quite spectacular, from a distance."

They moved deer into another paddock and put cattle close to a road where they thought was a lesser fire danger.

"We were more concerned with getting our personal possessions of a lifetime out of the house," Vanstone said.

David Vanstone and Fiona Thompson were evacuated from their 40.5ha farm as the blaze ripped through the Tasman district. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
David Vanstone and Fiona Thompson were evacuated from their 40.5ha farm as the blaze ripped through the Tasman district. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

"It was a mad 20-30 minutes. We filled the car and truck and ute and we were off. We resigned ourselves to the fact we couldn't get any more in anyway, this was it, that's what we were taking with us."

They have been staying with friends. This morning, they managed to beyond the cordons and check on livestock, shifting some fences. The water supply is holding up.

"The authorities have done a great job, no doubt about it," Vanstone said.

They would like to get back in today but are resigned to the fact it'll likely be tomorrow.
"There's nothing like your own bed," Vanstone said.

Meanwhile, Malling Rd couple Aly and Steven Walker were evacuated after "big billows" of smoke crept towards there property on Tuesday afternoon.

By 11pm police ordered them to evacuate as soon as possible, Aly Walker said.

"It was very scary."

Steven Walker said the smoke and flames were coming closer but they did not realise the true extent of the blaze until they drove towards Brightwater.

"[Then we] got a true grasp on the gravity of the situation – terrifying to say the least," Aly Walker.

Steven Walker said yesterday they were able to return to their property for about 30 minutes and they were hoping to again return for an hour later today to tend to stock.

"We haven't really been hit that hard by the fire, it's more been Redwood Valley. They have been hit a lot harder. There has been stock that have died over there," Steven Walker said.

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

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

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

About 182 properties and 400 residents were evacuated on Tuesday and Wednesday. Photo / Tim Cuff
About 182 properties and 400 residents were evacuated on Tuesday and Wednesday. Photo / Tim Cuff

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, they have a lot of work ahead of them, with a forecast for high temperatures and winds looking ominous.

Difficult times ahead: PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has 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.
Ardern said she felt sure everything that could be done was being done.

Firefighters have been working through the night to contain the 1900-ha fire. Photo / Getty
Firefighters have been working through the night to contain the 1900-ha fire. Photo / Getty

"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 1900-hectare Tasman blaze is "mortified", fire chiefs say.

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

The owner was "mortified", said Sutton who added it was a highly accidental event.
"A totally unintended consequence really," he said.

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.

Residents directly affected by the bush fires at a community meeting today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Residents directly affected by the bush fires at a community meeting today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

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, they have 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", he 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 are now available for fight the inferno, he said.

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

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 in to 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 were cordons could be eased or removed, he said.

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.

Mayoral relief fund

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 have significant discretion around how they choose to set up and administer a fund, and around the establishment of disbursement criteria.

The funds are 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 need so this funding can be used.

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