Next steps after fire revealed

A fire-ravaged remains of a house near the shore of Lake Ohau. Photo: Supplied
A fire-ravaged remains of a house near the shore of Lake Ohau. Photo: Supplied
"One week ago, the world changed for a lot of people."

Those words, from Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, rang true for many in the audience at a Twizel meeting held yesterday to provide an update on the Ohau fire response.

About 3.45am a week earlier, residents were woken by phone calls and knocks on the door as 30-foot flames surrounded Lake Ohau Village.

A total of 53 homes were damaged, and more than 5000ha of land was burned.

After a massive firefighting effort involving crews from all over the South Island, control of part of the incident site will be handed over to the Waitaki District Council today.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand incident controller Phil Marsh said fire scientists would also be working at the site until Wednesday, to see what they could learn.

They would be looking at everything from the speed of the fire to the attempts to extinguish it.

"The information they gather will really help us with resilience plans," he said.

At noon on Wednesday, insurance companies will send contractors in to start removing debris.

Lake Ohau Rd will reopen today, but a control point will be established at Ohau Dr.

Earlier in the weekend, Waitaki District Council emergency management duty controller Neil Jorgensen said restrictions would remain in place to ensure the safety of residents and while damaged properties were demolished.

"We have been working with the Insurance Council to co-ordinate the insurance issues relating to the fire," Mr Jorgensen said.

"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.

"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 heartwarming to see people in Twizel donate accommodation and food, and rally around to offer their support."

Chorus, Network Waitaki and Waitaki District Council staff had been assessing the damage to critical infrastructure and working to restore services.

Getting the water supply back up and running would take two to three weeks, Mr Jorgensen said at the meeting.

Work was also under way to repair damage to parts of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail.

Mr Kircher praised the Twizel community for the way it had wrapped around Ohau residents, describing it as "heartwarming".

He also praised the way Ohau residents had responded to the fire itself.

"Sometimes in life you get lucky, other times you make your own luck.

"This is a case of a community making its own luck."

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