Everyone has seen photos of monsoon buckets dangling underneath helicopters, but the opportunity to get up close probably doesn’t happen often. So it was rather exciting to see them being repeatedly filled almost under our noses! But sobering too to think of what they were fighting, and of the damage which had already occurred.
We were driving back from a day visit to Picton when we noticed a huge pall of smoke over the mountains to the northwest. That evening the news was about a huge forest fire (and one man’s retirement investment up in smoke, poor guy) plus homes threatened in the Waikakaho Valley.
Next day although sunny the wind blew fiercely and we thought we might get some photos a bit closer. After a few false starts we discovered a track off a back road which led to the Wairau River. Better still there was access to the stop bank and we were able to walk right up to where the monsoon buckets were being filled.
There were up to six helicopters in the air at one time, and another was seen to arrive. The skill of the pilots left me breathless. I lost count of the number of times each helicopter came shooting towards the river towing an empty bucket, turned into the wind and came down slowly to hover while the bucket filled, then off again post haste towards the fire. We watched them for hours.
We could not see any flames but it was clear the fire was still raging and moving up the valley.
Next day even stronger winds were forecast, up to 160km/hr. Thankfully there was also some rain. It was difficult to see in the gloom but it did appear the fire had gone down considerably.
Later news reports said the fire covered 450 hectares and there were at least 40 firefighters on the ground.
Most of the trees which were burnt would have been ready for harvesting in the next two years. Fire authorities estimated the damage and cost to fight the blaze could reach $$ million NZ dollars.