Huge fire claims home

A house has been burnt to the ground and at least 200 hectares of bush claimed by a fierce fire in Glenhope, which ripped past three other dwellings, forcing their owners to evacuate.

Firefighters from throughout the region and 10 helicopters with monsoon buckets worked hard through the night to contain the blaze, which started about four kilometres along Dry Weather Rd, southwest of Nelson.

Yesterday's gusty southerly wind died down enough this morning to stop the fire spreading, but crews are expected to be on site for another four days.

The home destroyed by the fire, 8 kilometres up Dry Weather Rd, is believed to be owned by Kevin and Caroline Wade, who could not be located by The Nelson Mail.

It is understood nobody has been injured in the blaze.

The fire, which burnt scrub, a pine plantation and native bush, generated a large orange smoke cloud which spread across the Waimea Plains and could be seen from many parts of the region. The Rural Fire Network is investigating the cause of the fire.

The Nelson Mail chief photographer Martin de Ruyter saw the fire area from a helicopter this morning. He described the area around the burnt-out house as "looking like something out of the Australian bush fires", with buildings and tractors still smouldering.

A black and tan huntaway dog wandering forlornly around the burnt-out house, and a person walking around the site, could be seen from the helicopter. The dog was later taken back to the incident control area.

Waimea Rural Fire Authority principal fire officer Neil Eder said the house had been overrun by the fire but firefighters hadn't been able to make a close inspection.

Nearby farmers Judi and Tom Jelinek were in limbo this morning. With the car packed with photographs, valuables and documents, they waited to hear if they had to be evacuated for a second time.

Mrs Jelinek said a police officer arrived this morning to tell them winds were expected to pick up and they should be prepared to leave.

The couple have a 240ha sheep and beef farm 10km along Dry Weather Rd. They were evacuated at about 5pm last night, along with Mr Jelinek's elderly parents and Mrs Wade.

Mrs Jelinek said Mrs Wade, who was home alone while her husband was away working, arrived at her home before a police officer told them to get out.

The Jelineks were able to return home at about midnight, but Mrs Wade spent the night with friends. Mrs Jelinek said she was scared yesterday, but felt better now she knew what was going on.

"I feel a lot better today, now we know what's happening. Yesterday was scary, the not knowing whether we have a house to come back to and being worried about our neighbours. I feel really good that the choppers are here and doing something and they are working so hard."

Mrs Jelinek spoke to Mrs Wade this morning who was going to look at the house site today.

Brightwater loggers Jim and Tom Payne were the first to spot the smoke which started behind the Triple Tui bed and breakfast property, and they dialled the emergency services.

"We knocked off work at 4pm and came down the road and noticed smoke. I thought it looked a little aggressive and talked to the guy who lives in the house who didn't know about it."

The pair headed over and tried to stop the fire spreading by "throwing a bit of water around", said Tom Payne.

They had buckets, fetching water from the river and also used spades to protect the three houses, which included two log cabins used for accommodation. They worked for about one and a half hours and said the fire "just took off".

The loggers were able to retrieve their bulldozer and logger excavator, and at 8.30pm had intended to return to see if the digger and a forestry skidder had survived.

"We were helping this guy and by the time we saw where it had gone, there was no way we were going in there [to get the rest of the machinery]."

Tom Payne said he was not in shock, but just "concerned that our machinery is burnt to the ground".

Last night, firefighters, ambulances and the air operations controller gathered in a paddock at the Triple Tui property, which is owned by Tracey Lynch and Steve Garnett. The pair were evacuated from their home.

The most threatened of their buildings was one of the log cabins which sits on a hill. Last night it sat amongst charred bush. Mr Eder said the fire "overran" the house, going right past it and around the outside.

"We were able to let the fire burn past and then went in and stopped it reaching the house."

Mr Eder said the couple, who did not want to talk to the Nelson Mail, were "cut up" and in shock.

Fifty firefighters yesterday battled the blaze, and at 10pm last night were relieved by 25 firefighters. Just after first light this morning, 40 new firefighters took over, as well as nine helicopters which were being joined by a tenth from Taupo.

The helicopters were picking up water with monsoon buckets from a nearby river and ground crew were working with heavy machinery to clear access and "mop up", said Mr Eder.

Wind gusts of at least 50kmh in exposed places yesterday made fighting the fire dangerous, he said.

"At the moment the ground is moderately dry, but with the wind the fire danger is very high," he said.

"Yesterday we had to be very careful," he said.

"The vigour of the fire and the fact there were not a lot of escape routes meant fighting it was dangerous."

The forestry burned was owned by a mixture of private owners and Nelson Forests Ltd.

The Nelson Mail