2019 Nelson Bush Fires: A Case Study

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The recent catastrophe of Australian bushfires has wiped out millions of hectares of land. This takes us back to a similar incident dating back to early 2019 in Nelson, New Zealand. A series of fires broke out amidst the hot and dry weather conditions. 2019 Nelson bushfires constitute the Pigeon Valley Fire along with three smaller fires. And, this is the most disastrous wildfire in the history of the nation.

When and Where?

The Nelson fires is a cumulative term for several wildfires stretching across the Tasman and Nelson districts of New Zealand.
The initial fire first started on February 5, 2019, in the Pigeon Valley, presumably due to a spark created by farming tools. And, the fire gained fast momentum and immediately called for the evacuation of three thousand people from the nearby town of Wakefield. However, the situation came under control by March 6, 2019.

Photo credit: RNZ / Dan Cook. firefighters
Firemen dampening down hotspots in the fire zone. Photo credit: RNZ / Dan Cook

What Caused the 2019 Nelson Bush Fires?

Unlike the 2019 Australian Bushfires, these fires were a result of sparks from some farm machinery. Many experts believe that climate change was the central cause of Australian fire. On March 7, 2019, a duo of man and woman were charged with arson for suspicions of aggravating the bushfires. A few forestry workers had allegedly spotted their car speeding away from the Dovedale Hills near Nelson only a few moments before the fire began. Hence, arson was also considered as a cause for the disastrous bushfires.

How Bad Was the 2019 Nelson Bush Fires?

In its initial stages, the Nelson fires covered about 4-5 hectares of forest land. Conditions were ‘extremely windy’ with gusts noted at a speed of 50 kilometers per hour. The fires had spread at an unprecedented rate and required sixteen fire trucks, seven helicopters, and two bulldozers to deal with the aftermath on Wednesday itself amply (February 6: one day after the fires began)

The total burnt area was around 2,400 hectares, and only one building was destroyed. No deaths were reported. The state did not declare an emergency since matters were under control soon enough.

Various reports of the fire said that this was the largest wildfire that New Zealand had seen in the last 64 years. And, the only incident that was anywhere near the Nelson bushfires was the Balmoral Forest Fire that took place in the year 1955.

Nelson Fires: Mitigation and Compensation

The authorities were quick to evacuate residential areas affected by the fires. Dave Gibson, a Nelson Police inspector, reassured everyone, saying that the evacuation procedures had gone smoothly on Wednesday afternoon. They also had pre-planned evacuations in the Redwood Valley by dividing the affected areas into smaller sections. This made the evacuation process much more organized.

As of February 27, evacuated residents from the Redwood Valley and areas in its vicinity could go back to their properties, with the exception of giving properties on the Moutere Highway. The said five properties were still under a precautionary lookout, and the authorities advised the residents to stay away.

Throughout the entire episode, fire crews were patrolling all the affected areas. The Nelson Fire Clean Up Crew took up the responsibility to look after the same. Overall, it seems like the authorities performed to the best of their abilities to ensure minimal damage and maximum safety.

What Does Nelson Fires Tell the World? 

Although the 2019 Nelson fires are seen as minimal by the majority, it is important to understand how things could have escalated due to minor delays or negligence.
The ongoing Australian bushfire catastrophe tells us time and again, how careful we ought to be. Fire, once set ablaze, can spread at an uncontrollable and unprecedented rate! Vigilance is key. Natural disasters and calamities are, of course, a leading cause for forest fires. Apart from these, people must get awareness to be careful around their electrical appliances and machinery that may create sparks or ignitions.

Unlike the Australian fire, no studies have linked The Nelson bushfires to the issue of climate change and environmental degradation. However, in light of the recent Australian bushfires, perhaps it is time for us to take a step back and reflect upon matters of sustainable development and how our actions adversely affect the world climate. The United Nations calls climate change as the human print on greenhouse gases as human activities continue to create irreversible changes in the earth’s ecosystems.
Thus, the real question remains; Exactly how much are we willing to risk for economic growth and materialistic desires?


Georgia Forrester (2019, February 27). “Live: Nelson bush fire – Dozens on the ground on fourth night of Nelson blaze”. Retrieved from www.stuff.co.nz/national/110400124/live-large-forest-fire-in-nelson-intensifies

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