By Andrew Falloon
For many, the fires across the Nelson and Tasman districts in February will bring back terrible memories of the Port Hills fire.
We’ve just passed the two-year mark since that awful blaze. It spread across 1600ha in the three days that it raged, causing hundreds of residents to be evacuated, and, tragically, claiming one life.
Incredibly, it would take 66 days before the fire was fully extinguished.
Many lessons have been learned since that fire. The response in Nelson by Fire and Emergency New Zealand has been nothing short of exceptional.
Crews from our region have helped, coming from the Timaru Fire Brigade and Peel Forest Rural Fire Force, among others.
Our contribution doesn’t end there. Baling contractors from Mid and South Canterbury have partnered up with local trucking companies and smaller operators for a hay convoy, delivering much-needed feed to Nelson farmers.
The costs are substantial. On commercial terms, the deliveries would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But the payoff is enormous. Over the weekend I spoke to a truckie from one of the convoys that delivered feed to a dairy farmer particularly hard hit by the fire.
The farmer had 400 stock on a paddock not much bigger than a rugby field with “about as much grass as the road I drove on to get there”.
When the farmer saw the convoy arrive, he broke down in emotion and relief.
While trucks, feed and labour can be donated, some costs can’t. The cost of petrol and road user charges are substantial, the latter costing about $1500 for each round trip.
I’ve written to the Transport Minister asking if the road user charges for the convoys can be refunded. It’s a small but meaningful thing that the Government can do to acknowledge the selfless work the contractors and companies are undertaking.
We’re lucky so far (at the time of writing) to be spared a significant fire in South Canterbury. As Nelson and the Port Hills have shown, when they strike they can move quickly, to catastrophic effect.
If we are unfortunate in the future to suffer a significant fire, I’m sure the contribution our dedicated Fenz staff and volunteers have made in recent weeks won’t be forgotten.
If you’re interested in joining your local Volunteer Fire Brigade, you can call the Latter St station on 684-1200 and they’ll put you in touch with your nearest brigade or rural force.
- Andrew Falloon is the MP for Rangitata