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10 October 2020
Last Sunday, a significant fire affected properties at Lake Ohau with 53 houses destroyed or damaged, another 53 undamaged and fire spreading across an area of 5,500 hectares.
Emergency Management Duty controller Neil Jorgensen said Waitaki District Council has been working closely with Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) as they make the Lake Ohau Alpine Village safe for re-entry. During the week, FENZ has provided managed access for residents to visit or, if property is undamaged, retrieve essential items.
“FENZ will advise us when the village will be safe for more general access. The area remains an active fire scene and FENZ is monitoring weather conditions and identifying and remedying hotspots as well as cutting down fire-damaged trees that are deemed dangerous,” he said.
FENZ will determine when it will be safe to re-open Lake Ohau Road and when control of site access to the village can transfer to Waitaki District Council Civil Defence. At this stage it is expected to be early next week.
There are numerous hazards in any area that has been affected by a fire. These include hotspots that could reignite in strong winds, to loose iron and trees damaged by the fire that could fall without warning.
Once FENZ confirms it is safe to transfer control, Waitaki District Council plans to establish a control point at the Lake Ohau Alpine Village entrance to manage entry. Restrictions will remain in place to ensure the safety of residents and while damaged properties are demolished.
“We have been working with the Insurance Council to coordinate the insurance issues relating to the fire. Insurance assessors have been able to access the area to progress claims for property owners who have suffered loss, and insurance companies will appoint contractors to do the demolition,” said Mr Jorgensen.
“Residents are understandably stressed by the loss of property and will need to work closely with their insurance company to work out details around demolition and rebuild. It’s been heart-warming to see people in Twizel donate accommodation and food, and rally around to offer their support.
On Sunday afternoon there will be a public meeting from 2-3pm at the Twizel Events Centre to thank members of the public who have helped out, and give them an update from each agency that has been involved in the response,” he said.
The fire has been indiscriminate, with some houses in the Lake Ohau Village totally destroyed while neighboring properties remain undamaged.
Chorus, Network Waitaki and Waitaki District Council staff have been assessing the damage to critical infrastructure and working to restore services. Before residents can return, loose debris will need to be removed as they are a major safety hazard, power will need to be re-connected and water and sewerage checked for damage and made safe. Emergency Management is working on a co-ordinated approach to clean-up with insurers to demolish and remove debris.
Some residents with properties outside the immediate area of Lake Ohau Alpine Village may have access to their properties in the next few days, once it is deemed safe to do so and Lake Ohau Road is reopened.
A welfare centre has been open since last Sunday morning at the Twizel Events Centre in Market Place. Emergency Management staff and volunteers have been there from 8am to 5pm daily to help meet immediate needs and a daily briefing for residents has been held, where they can hear directly from Fire and Emergency NZ and Waitaki District Council Emergency Management.
Many people have asked how they can help those impacted by the fire. Mayor Gary Kircher has established a Mayoral Relief Fund to provide support to impacted residents. Donations can be made into the following bank account: Ohau Relief – Ref. Ohau - Bank Account – 02 0940 0156400 000. The Government has announced an initial contribution of $100,000.