It was 20 years ago last week when Central Otago firefighters had to deal with two large fires, in the Waikerikeri Valley and Springvale area and in the Gorge Creek/Fruitlands area.

A civil emergency was declared on February 28, 1999, and 150 people were evacuated.
Nick Abbott, of Outram, can recall driving home from a Beach Boys concert at Millbrook on February 28, 1999, with flames on either side of the road.

Two weeks ago, he was one of a large group of people from this region who went to Nelson to provide help and support to farmers and lifestyle block holders during the fires.

Mr Abbott, who is the Otago, North Otago and South Canterbury territory manager for Federated Farmers, spent February 17-21 in and around Wakefield and Richmond, helping co-ordinate and deliver stock feed to livestock, and to give those already there a break.


Farmers who had been forced to leave their homes were given beds at private homes and even the motor camps had allowed them to bring in their farm dogs.

''I worked with Jan Gillanders and other Federated Farmers volunteers distributing the feed donated from people from Ward, Canterbury and Ashburton,'' he said.

Large quantities of baleage, hay and straw had been donated.

However, he was concerned some of the donated feed was of poorer quality.

It was important to give stressed animals good quality feed, which helped them cope with the events going on around them.

Mr Abbott also spent time at the A&P Society showgrounds and was impressed with how efficiently and willingly the society made its showgrounds available to livestock from lifestyle blocks.

He said communication had been a key factor, providing information to farmers to make sure they knew what was going on, on their properties.

''We tried to make sure we kept to existing hay dumps, rather than adding to the fire risk.


''The vast majority of animals received what they needed, although some animals were not accessible.''

Once farmers were allowed to return to their properties, one of their priorities would be to repair fencing, which had been knocked down to make fire breaks.

As a result, stock had wandered or fled into other properties.

''It was amazing how much stock tended to go where the feed and water was and not wander willy-nilly.''

He said it was also important all livestock was tagged, as proof of ownership.
Mr Abbott drove home on February 21, after completing a full day in Nelson.

Southern Rural Life