A time to reflect: the Pigeon Valley Fire remembered

05/02/2020 10:35am
Jacinda Ardern visits the Emergency Operating Centre in Richmond.
Jacinda Ardern visits the Emergency Operating Centre in Richmond.

A year ago, sparks from farming equipment started a fire that became the biggest civil defence emergency in Nelson and Tasman’s history. It started the night before Waitangi Day, and quickly escalated into a major incident.

“We activated our Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) in Richmond,” says Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese. “The emergency declaration was made the next morning, and dedicated teams from Nelson and Tasman were embedded there for three challenging weeks.”

The fires caused more than 3,000 people to evacuate their homes and prompted an unprecedented combined response from Nelson and Tasman Council. In October, those involved in the response were awarded Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s first Spirit of Service Award.

“The way Nelson and Tasman pulled together at this very challenging time was inspiring,” says Mayor Reese. “A real reminder of what people co-operating together can achieve.”

The response won particular praise for its collaboration with Te Tau Ihu Iwi, and the introduction of Iwi Liaison Officers (ILO). A team of four from Te Puni Kōkiri, DOC and NZ Police provided a culturally authentic presence at the emergency centre that honoured the concepts of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga.

Shifts at the EOC started and ended with karakia. ILOs also provided cultural support to special guests such as the Prime Minister as well as communicating vital information to the Māori community in Te Tau Ihu, across the country and worldwide.

Tasman District Council Mayor Tim King says the fire was a hugely challenging time for the region, especially for those who were evacuated from their homes.

“A fire on this scale, on top of the drought conditions at the time could have felt overwhelming but my lasting memory was the huge response from our community. It was an incredible effort all round and it made me feel proud of the place that I live and the people I share it with.”

Mayor Reese says the anniversary is an opportunity for both regions to remember “the incredible power of fire and the damage it can cause long after it is extinguished".

"Our thoughts are now with our friends in Australia suffering from the effects of their own catastrophic wildfires, and with firefighting teams faced with the task of keeping our communities safe from harm.”