The fires that have ravaged Tasman and Nelson this last week have brought out the best in our communities. I pay tribute to the heroic work by so many that have prevented the loss of life, saved dozens of homes and provided refuge for animals. I am writing this column from my caravan at the Welfare HQ for Civil Defence at Saxton Stadium where I have been fielding questions and assisting people in getting access for caring for animals, income support, alternative schooling and transport.
My strongest praise goes to those directly involved in fighting this forest fire. The volunteers from our Richmond, Stoke, Mapua, Motueka and Takaka Brigades have been outstanding. So too have our Brightwater, Appleby, Hira, Upper Takaka and and Ngtatimoti Rural Fire Forces. These firefighters have been doing the hard, dirty job on the ground. We should be equally grateful for the skilled helicopter pilots in the air and the workers driving the water trucks, bull dozers and excavators that are containing the fire. They have been doing extraordinary hours in tough conditions. I also acknowledge the work of our Mayors, Civil Defence, Police, Army and MPI.
This fire is the largest in New Zealand in 64 years and is a tough test for the newly merged Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ). The confused response to Christchurch’s Port Hills fire two years ago helped drive our former National Government to unite our urban and rural fire services. This response has been much better lead and is a credit to FENZ. I applaud the efforts of National Incident Controller John Sutton and our local Principal Rural Fire Officer Ian Reade.
The volunteer effort to support our emergency services has been unbelievable. Red Cross, St Johns, Rotary, Huha and our Marae and Churches have stood out. Thousands of Nelsonians have provided food, accommodation, donations. A huge thank you to those helping at Saxton with care for people and at the A & P Showgrounds for animals.
It has been pleasing that there have been no reports of looting of evacuated properties as has occurred in other recent emergencies around the country. Police have been right to throw the book at a couple of arson incidents in the city over the weekend involving waste skips. A place needs to be reserved in hell for those responsible for the suspicious fires on Rabbit Island and at Walters Bluff.
It is good that most people are back in their homes, but we are not yet out of the woods. There are weeks of work still required on this fire. We also require ongoing vigilance on any activities that could spark another fire given the extreme conditions until we get significant rain.
My job during this difficult time is to help ensure proper coordination of the many agencies and to be an advocate for affected constituents. If you have problems with income support, accommodation, insurance or animal welfare, get in touch. We can and will get through these awful fires together.