New Zealand Police and RNZ
Nelson, February 10, 2019
Nelson Police are seeking information from the public as they continue to investigate alongside Fire & Emergency New Zealand two fires believed to be intentionally lit
One was on Rabbit Island, on Wednesday, February 6, and another on Iwa Road around 230 pm on Friday, February 8, 2019.
Both fires were brought under control quickly utilising resources deployed away from fighting the Pigeon Valley fire. The fire on Iwa Road started near the lower end of Iwa Street and spread quickly up the hillside.
Potential risk to lives
It had the potential to place further lives and properties at risk.
“In particular, as part of our investigation we want to identify and speak with three males seen on a bench on the Centre of New Zealand track in close proximity to Iwa Road, around 130 pm on Friday,” the Police said.
The suspects have been described as Caucasian aged between 16 and 20 years old.
Two were possibly wearing baseball caps and one had fair hair.
This afternoon Police will be visiting properties in the Iwa Road area and neighbouring addresses looking for any witnesses and gathering any information from the public.
The Police have also appealed to other people who have not already contacted Police on 0800-080209 if anyone had witnessed any suspicious activity on Rabbit Island on February 6, or around Iwa Road in the afternoon of February 8 or anyone has any further useful information that would help the Police.
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The Police have urged people evacuated from the fire zone not to breach civil defence cordons to check on their animals and properties.
A large fire has been burning in the Tasman area south of Nelson since Tuesday.
About 3000 people have already been evacuated from Wakefield and the Eves, Teapot, Redwood and Pigeon valleys.
Ministry staff alert
Speaking at a news conference this morning, Detective Superintendent Peter Read said that the Ministry for Primary Industries staff have been checking on animals in the fire zone, and have alerted police to the problem.
“They are not going through cordons, they are going through farm land. We want farmers and residents to work with us not against us. Public safety is our main concern so we’d ask them to use the controlled visits back into properties when they can.”
Police suspect two fires in the Nelson area this week were deliberately lit.
The fires on Rabbit Island on Wednesday and Walter Bluff near Iwa Road on Friday diverted fire fighters from the major blaze.
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Civil Defence Controller Roger Ball said it was a good night last night, “there were no major issues … and no further evacuations.”
Earlier in the day, John Sutton from Fire and Emergency said that the focus for today would be on trying to put out the fire and he was concerned about the forecast winds gusts of 45 km/h. He said that firefighters would be able to manage winds up to 50 km/h, but they would pull out if winds became stronger.
Mr Sutton said that there was a control line completely around the fire made up of bulldozer lines, roads and river bed, and they currently had all the resources they need.
“We are probably in the best position we possibly could be to be prepared for this wind event,” he said.
However, at midday, the MetService was forecasting similar conditions to yesterday, with winds of between 25 and 35 km/h.
Large area gutted
The fire area is approximately 2300 hectares with a perimeter of about 25 km, and was less than 2 km from Wakefield, Mr Sutton said.
There are 155 firefighters on the ground today along with 23 helicopters and three planes.
Mr Ball said that the Defence Force would continue to provide a managed convoy on SH6 through Wakefield between 8 am and 6pm, but was for passing traffic only, and not for people to stop and check their properties.
He said that he would continue to liaise with residents at the fringe of the fire cordon to get temporary access to their properties in a controlled way,
Civil Defence has ordered people in the Nelson and Tasman areas not to mow their lawns or use agricultural machinery that might strike a spark.
It said that prohibited activities include those where metal meets stone: mowing, discing, harrowing, stump grinding and cultivation. Outdoor activities prohibited include gas cutting, welding, angle grinding, and all use of chainsaws and scrub/bar cutters.
Commercial forest harvesting activities are also to cease, however provision can be made for the loading and mobilising of harvested material from landings.
Mr Ball said that the prohibition notice has been made under the Civil Defence Declaration of Emergency.
Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said that people who were not able to work because of the ban should contact the Ministry of Social Development on (04) 9163300 for assistance.
The Ministry for Primary Industries and the SPCA have been feeding and rescuing animals stranded in the no-go area around the fire.
The Ministry said that there were more than 200 lifestyle blocks in the area and crews had been taking food and water to animals and in some cases transporting them to the Richmond showgrounds.
MPI Response Manager Charlotte Austin said that Redwood Valley was re-visited yesterday when cordons were briefly opened to residents.
“We are confident that every one of the animals still in place in the valley has been accounted for, fed and watered, and is in a good state. Anyone who is worried about animals whether inside the cordon, or anywhere near the fires, should phone 0800-008333.”
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