Nelson bush fire: Richmond's land-based ark caring for evacuated animals
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.
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.
Livestock and domestic animals have been corralled, checked and cuddled amidst the crisis which has shocked the South Island city.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
"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."