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Bushfire battled in Nelson but forest saved

As firefighters battle a blaze in New Zealand’s Nelson-Tasman region which has seen about 170 homes evacuated and a state of emergency declared, another fire broke out on Rabbit Island, across from Nelson Airport. Source: Stuff NZ

The Rabbit Island fire “came out of the blue” according to Grant Haywood, Fire and Emergency NZ Tasman area commander, but he said there were enough resources to address it at the moment.

Ground crews and 16 helicopters were fighting the first blaze about 30km southwest of Nelson.

By yesterday morning, the fire had more than doubled in size spread to cover 1870 hectares, or 18.7 square kilometres. Houses had been lost in two separate areas, but there had been no reports of injury.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor said a short flyover revealed the significance of the area that had been burnt.

Without quick work, this “very significant” fire had the potential to affect extensive blocks of forestry. There were clearly still hotspots within the perimeter, which was “pretty stable”, he said.

Firefighters still had work ahead to get it under control and reduce the chance of another flare up.

Fire crews were attacking the blaze in a circular fashion and hitting hot spots, Grant Haywood, Fire and Emergency New Zealand Tasman area commander said.

“We’re still working to contain it and actually get some boundaries around it. It’s of significant size. It basically goes all the way from Wakefield right down to the start of Appleby so it’s a large fire.”

He said it was possible the fires could flare up again with changing weather conditions. The weather would dictate how blaze was approached by fire crews.

Haywood said they were expecting the wind to change and the temperature to come up and that they were monitoring the situation.

“We’re trying to get a boundary around it and trying to contain it.”

There were three main strategies for fighting a large wildfire, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) rural regional manager Richard McNamara said: direct attack, indirect attack and letting it burn out. Firefighters in Nelson would be using a combination of all three, he said.

“Although the growth of the fire has slowed with the lower temperatures and more moisture in the air this morning, the situation could change quickly if the temperatures and wind climb,” said Nelson Tasman Emergency Management on Wednesday about midday.