Fire and Emergency NZ’s Area Commander, Grant Haywood speaks to reporters. Photo: Evan Barnes.

Nelson on fire: how it unfolded


Tuesday 5 February:
A fire breaks out in Pigeon Valley, near Wakefield, shortly after 2pm. It starts to spread quickly due to dry conditions and strong winds later in the evening. 12 crews battle the fire overnight.

Wednesday 6 February:
At 8am a State of Emergency is declared in the Nelson Tasman region. The fire spreads to cover 1870 hectares. Fanned by southerly winds over most of Tuesday night it causes material damage from Pigeon Valley north to the Inland Moutere Highway and Waimea West Rd.

Crews are now supported by 10 helicopters and two fixed wing aircraft with heavy machinery on the ground. Over 100 homes are evacuated or self-evacuated in Eves Valley, Golden Hills Rd, Redwood Valley Rd, Mallings Rd and Greenacres Rd.

It is revealed a farmer tilling dry fields led to a spark that first started the fire. He is said to be “mortified”.

A fire breaks out on Rabbit Island in the afternoon covering up to 10 hectares but is contained by nightfall. The first Hercules aircraft lands in Nelson with more firefighting supplies for crews.

Thursday 7 February:
The fire still covers around still covers 1900 hectares.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives in Nelson and visits the site.

Favorable conditions allow crews to contain the spread of the fire and build fire breaks.

Friday 8 February:
The fire now covers 2000 hectares. Schools in Wakefield close as a precaution with the town’s residents ‘on notice’ for evacuation

The Nelson community starts rallying with donations and offers of help.

Wakefield residents north of State Highway 6 between Pigeon Valley Rd and Simmonds Rd are evacuated followed by those in the area bordered by Barton Lane, Higgins Rd and Baigent Valley Rd.

The Civil Defence Centre in Wakefield is moved to Saxton Field Stadium.

A new blaze breaks out on Sir Stanley Whitehead Reserve in Central Nelson around 3pm. Three helicopters, two fixed-wing planes, four appliances and five tankers arrive on the scene swiftly to bring the fire under control by 8:30pm.

Saturday 9 February:
The fire now covers 2100 hectares.

Today there are 23 helicopters, two fixed wing planes, one drone team, 29 firefighting crews and around 150 firefighters, 47 Incident Management staff and 23 heavy machines fighting the fire.

Residents in the Wai-iti area are told to evacuate.

Sunday 10 February:
The fire now covers around 2300 hectares.

There are 155 firefighters on the ground, plus 23 helicopters and three fixed wing planes.

There is now a total fire ban in place for Nelson Tasman and an emergency directive is issued to prohibit activities that could increase the risk of fire breaking out.

A successful controlled burn-off operation was carried out in Redwood Valley, helping to create a larger fire break.

Monday 11 February:
The fire is still covering around 2300 hectares.

There are now around 190 firefighters, 10 helicopters, two fixed-wing planes, 15 heavy machines and 47 incident management staff.

The animal evacuation site at Richmond A&P showgrounds is currently home to around 500 animals with more coming in by the hour.

Evacuated Wakefield residents are able to return to their homes.

Tuesday 12 February:
Twenty five fire crews continued to fight the blaze overnight with Wakefield residents able to stay in their homes.

Some light rain early in the morning provided some relief for the crews on the ground.

NZ Post services resume deliveries to Wakefield but some rural areas still cannot receive mail.

Seven hundred animals are now in the care of HUHANZ, SPCA and MPI at the Richmond Showgrounds.

Richmond Civil Defence Centre relocated to the Richmond New Life Church at 85 Wensley Rd, open from 8am to 7pm.

Wednesday 13 February:

The fire is now covering around 2400 hectares.

Flare-ups kept crews busy overnight, which were caused by a drop in humidity and a breach in the control line around the east of the fire ground.

There are around 150 personnel on the ground, 14 heavy machines and nine helicopters.

The total fire ban remains in place and the State of Emergency has been extended until 20 February.

Thursday, 14 February:

Residents of about 74 properties in south Pigeon Valley have been able to return home on a ‘conditional re-entry’ basis this morning. That leaves about 133 properties and 370 people still evacuated.

Extra provision has been made for temporary daytime access for residents in other areas (except Redwood Valley) to tend to their properties and do more extensive farm maintenance. They can now enter their properties from 8am to 2pm each day.