Nelson bush fire: Richmond's land-based ark caring for evacuated animals

ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Meet the animals evacuated from Nelson's bush fire.

Emotional owners evacuated from their homes in the Nelson fires are leaving animals on Richmond Showground's 100 acres which has transformed into a land-based ark. 

The grounds have not been used for any large scale events since soldiers trained for World War I, Richmond Showground Nelson A&P Association treasurer John Harwood said.

Streams of cars have flowed into the grounds since a devastating forest fire broke out in Pigeon Valley, about 30 kilometres south of Nelson on Tuesday afternoon. A second fire broke out in Nelson City on Friday afternoon prompting further residential evacuations.

HUHA volunteer Vikki Ambrose gives Molly, the dog, a comforting snuggle at the Richmond Showground which has been transformed into an animal evacuation hub, near Nelson.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
HUHA volunteer Vikki Ambrose gives Molly, the dog, a comforting snuggle at the Richmond Showground which has been transformed into an animal evacuation hub, near Nelson.

Groups of volunteers are looking after hundreds of animals under the careful watch of veterinarians and organisations under the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), such as HUHA and Animal Evacuation NZ.

READ MORE:
Fighting the Tasman fire at the front lines
Nelson fires: Home destroyed in blaze
Nelson bush fire: What you need to know 

Livestock and domestic animals have been corralled, checked and cuddled amidst the crisis which has shocked the South Island city. 

Veterinary Emergency Response Teams (VERT) have been feeding and watering livestock on properties inside the cordoned zones and checking for illness, stress and injury.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Veterinary Emergency Response Teams (VERT) have been feeding and watering livestock on properties inside the cordoned zones and checking for illness, stress and injury.

Richmond Showground Nelson A&P Association manager Annette Robinson said Nelson Harness Racing opened the grounds to horses as soon as the inferno began. It was also her birthday.

"We will remember this one."

She said the ability to give people reassurance their animals were cared for had helped owners' distress. There had been a lot of tears.

Emotional pet owners have been directed to drop their pets off at the Richmond Showground after evacuating their properties.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Emotional pet owners have been directed to drop their pets off at the Richmond Showground after evacuating their properties.

Some farmers unable to go back home were part of the volunteer teams, simply because they needed something to steady their minds.

"It's the animals, more than their houses, that they're worried about," Robinson said.

Animal Evacuation NZ volunteer Russell Black said he had spent most of Friday delivering cages to those who needed to evacuate.

Firefighters are continuing to work on Nelson bush fires which broke out in Pigeon Valley on Tuesday. Golden Hills Rd was cordoned off as a result of the blaze.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Firefighters are continuing to work on Nelson bush fires which broke out in Pigeon Valley on Tuesday. Golden Hills Rd was cordoned off as a result of the blaze.

The organisation's 15 Nelson-based volunteers visited 300 houses, distributed 70 pet carriers and evacuated about 20 sheep, lambs and a number of chickens with chicks from Pigeon Valley Rd and the wider exclusion zone.

Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) and Massey University Equine Clinical Studies professor Chris Riley said the group worked inside the fire zone to check on livestock that farmers were forced to leave behind.

"We found some animals that had died in the fire." The sheep could not run from the flames, he said.

The Animal Evacuation NZ teams have been working inside the cordoned zones to help evacuate animals to the Richmond Showground.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
The Animal Evacuation NZ teams have been working inside the cordoned zones to help evacuate animals to the Richmond Showground.

Of the 30 farms checked so far, the animals were in "pretty good" condition. Most were in need of food and water but none required veterinary attention, he said.

"We didn't find any animals that needed to be evacuated. Although it was smouldering, the fire seemed to be contained."

Animal Evacuation NZ volunteer Chris Stuart was readying the elderly to evacuate from a retirement home in The Wood, Nelson, when flames erupted near homes on Walters Bluff.

Animal Evacuation NZ teams have worked to evacuate sheep from people's properties inside the cordoned zone where farmers were not able to go home, following the Nelson bush fires.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Animal Evacuation NZ teams have worked to evacuate sheep from people's properties inside the cordoned zone where farmers were not able to go home, following the Nelson bush fires.

The next day she was volunteering her time helping people evacuate animals from homes.

"I've never been so impressed with the way those firemen just got that water and just belted that mountain – that fire, and got it under control.

"I feel really reassured that in any emergency we've got a pretty good, professional team. Also, from working here with the animals. We've got a pretty fantastic team."

A small aircraft drops fire retardant over the Walters Bluff fire in Nelson on Friday while firefighters continued to fight the blaze in the Pigeon Valley area.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
A small aircraft drops fire retardant over the Walters Bluff fire in Nelson on Friday while firefighters continued to fight the blaze in the Pigeon Valley area.

Sharyn Miller, of Nelson, went into Richmond Showground at 7.30am to volunteer. Inside a caged area, she played tug-of-war with a dog called Roy.

He was one of 14 dogs evacuated from a kennel on Friday night, she said.

Why volunteer? Miller has lost two houses – the first to a fire and the second during the Christchurch earthquakes.

A man and his dog evacuated on his bicycle after a fire broke out on Walters Bluff on Friday, after days of Nelson bush fires.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
A man and his dog evacuated on his bicycle after a fire broke out on Walters Bluff on Friday, after days of Nelson bush fires.

"We had lots of people helping us out so it's about doing the little bit we can do, to help out. I know what it's like at the other end."

Animal Evacuation NZ volunteer Chris Stewart was an eye witness to the fire at Walters Bluff in Nelson on Friday. She is now dedicating her time caring for animals at the Richmond Showground.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Animal Evacuation NZ volunteer Chris Stewart was an eye witness to the fire at Walters Bluff in Nelson on Friday. She is now dedicating her time caring for animals at the Richmond Showground.
Chickens with chics, roosters and turkeys are being cared for inside the fowl show house which has been turned into an evacuation centre following fires in Nelson.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
Chickens with chics, roosters and turkeys are being cared for inside the fowl show house which has been turned into an evacuation centre following fires in Nelson.
A goat evacuated from a property affected by the Nelson fires checks in on the other farm animals left in the care of volunteers at Richmond Showground.
ROSA WOODS/STUFF
A goat evacuated from a property affected by the Nelson fires checks in on the other farm animals left in the care of volunteers at Richmond Showground.

Stuff