‘Apocalyptic’ scene confronts firefighters

Firefighters were confronted with an "apocalyptic" scene as they drove into the heart of unprecedented flames at Ohau Village.

Twizel chief fire officer Simon Fox was one of the first on the scene in the early hours of Sunday morning, after his pager woke him up.

He quickly realised the blaze was unlike anything he had seen in his 21 years of firefighting.

"I had lots of thoughts racing through my head."

As he raced towards the village he was met by several residents fleeing the flames.

"My first impressions when I got very, very close was ‘This is going to be one of the biggest jobs I’ve ever seen’.

"The devastation of the properties, the speed at which that fire travelled, and that ember traffic, I’ve never experienced before."

It was pitch black, low visibility. It was the first time he had ever worn a pair of ski goggles at a fire, because his eyes were so sore from the smoke.

"It was actually apocalyptic, to me.

"Driving into that village, I actually had to look at the tarseal, to see where I was going," Mr Fox recalled.

Twizel fire chief Simon Fox had not seen a fire the size of the Ohau blaze in his 21-year career....
Twizel fire chief Simon Fox had not seen a fire the size of the Ohau blaze in his 21-year career. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER


By the time he got to the scene, good decisions had been made to get firefighters together in one place.

"I did become quite concerned that we were possibly in a position where we had fire on both sides of us, but we had nowhere to go.

"It was a concern to me."

The wind was loud and swirling, and the ember traffic was "unbelievable".

"The decision to enter that village and put crews in there weighed very, very heavily on me."

He was impressed by how quickly the village was evacuated.

Several residents went door to door to make sure everyone got out.

"To see them lose everything, it’s hard to describe that feeling, but I firmly know that my crews and all the urban crews, we did our very, very best to save what was saveable in that village."

He personally knew some of the residents there.

"I ended up speaking to one on the Sunday, we were both nearly in tears to be fair.

"It was just very emotional."


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