New Zealand

Lake Ōhau fire: Plan for residents with undamaged homes to return on 9 November

18:31 pm on 29 October 2020

Some Lake Ōhau residents will be able to move back into their undamaged properties just over a month after the devastating fire.

A fire damaged house at Lake Ōhau village, with a house that appears not to have been damaged in the background. Photo: RNZ / Anan Zaki

The fire razed much of the village on 4 October, destroying or damaging half the properties.

Recovery manager Lichelle Guyan confirmed residents would be able to return on 9 November if it was safe.

"A lot of work is going on behind the scenes to make this as easy as we can for everybody and to facilitate the ability for people to move back into habitable houses," Guyan said.

"The biggest concern for us was safety. Ōhau is a high wind zone and there's a lot of large objects that could fly about there for the first few weeks. We have been able to assess the infrastructure during this time."

Crews were working hard to ensure essentials including water and sewage were running by then, she said.

Guyan told residents the news earlier today.

"They're pleased with the progress that we're making. As you would expect they have lots of questions about the recovery and the status of the buildings that need to be demolished and we are working through all of those," she said.

It is not clear exactly how many residents will be returning when they are allowed back in.

The council would be working with residents on a case-by-case basis to find out what they need, Guyan said.

"Not everybody is looking to get back to the village straight away. Some people are just looking at how they're going to clear their sites and what it means in terms of future building so we've got different needs from different individuals that we're doing our best to manage as effectively as possible.

"A large number of permanent residents will be moving back at or around that time."

Ōhau is a high wind zone and it's hoped most of the large rubble that resulted from the fire will have been cleared by the time residents are allowed back in. Photo: Supplied

But it would not be free of risks which residents were to be told about before heading in, she said.

"Most of the risks are already there now. There will be large machinery about. Most of the large rubble will hopefully be cleared but some of it may not be, so there may still be some material that could move in high winds. We're working through all our options to mitigate those risks. Sites that have been cleared, there could be dust that could be a factor in the high wind zone so we'll be encouraging people to have dust masks with them.

"We are hopeful there may not even need to be a checkpoint into Ōhau but it's a little bit early to confirm that at this stage."

As for site and soil contamination, there was a positive outlook so far although Guyan said there were more test results to come back.

"We're not seeing anything of concern at this stage."

She said for now, Waitaki District Council, the Insurance Council, other stakeholders and residents were working together to try and get the community back on its feet.