News and Events

Farmlanders assemble for fire response

At the time of The Farmlander going to print, the fire which broke out in Pigeon Valley, Wakefield on 4th February was still hampering more than 2,400ha of land – much of it lifestyle blocks – and only some of the more than 2,600 people who had been evacuated from their homes had returned.
 

With the state of emergency still in place, we touched base with some Farmlands staff to uncover how they had co-ordinated Farmlands’ disaster response and supported our shareholders during this difficult time.
 

Setting up a hub

Farmlands Sales Manager (Upper South), Frazer Clarke soon found himself the man in the middle of the spinning wheel, co-ordinating multiple relief efforts on the ground. Ex-military and having served in the Middle East, Frazer is experienced in emergency communications and management and these skills quickly came to the fore.

“At the Showgrounds, there were loads of industry groups and response teams milling about – they were keen to help but weren’t always sure how. So, Jan [Federated Farmers] and I started to take a lead, getting people talking to each other and organising things a bit.”

His multi-pronged approach, in partnership with other membership and voluntary organisations, initiated:

  • A large animal housing hub based at the Richmond A&P Showgrounds – holding everything from pet rabbits to mobs of 80 sheep.
  • Efficient management of animal feed donations (including afterhours support) to the Farmlands Richmond and Motueka stores and the Showgrounds.
  • A call-to-arms for local shareholders to volunteer animal-moving capability, grazing land and animal accommodation.

“The response from Tasman shareholders was very generous, it’s been awesome. We received hundreds of emails and phone calls from those wishing to help in a variety of ways including that all-important shifting of stock from evacuating areas. Many people turned up to the store too – dropping off feed, socks for firefighters, biscuits – you name it,” Frazer says.

Local support was matched from further afield. For example, the Nelson Fires Hay Convoy was a group setup on social media to move mass donations of hay from businesses in Canterbury and the West Coast to the region. “At last count, we had received eight truckloads from those areas, which was amazing,” Frazer says.
 

Mobilising together

Farmlands General Manager – Operations, Mal Scrymgeour recalled the successful partnership with Federated Farmers during the Kaikoura earthquakes and so acted quickly to replicate this setup in Nelson.

This saw Frazer working closely as a team with Jan Gillanders, Provincial Support for Federated Farmers.

When organisations like the Ministry of Primary Industries flew in, Jan and Frazer could provide a cohesive and powerful voice on behalf of farmers.

The category team at the support office moved quickly to arrange the movement of product to the region. Extra tanks, water supplies, fencing and animal feed were sourced and distributed to the Richmond Farmlands store as a matter of priority. It was encouraging too, to see suppliers donating product to the cause.

Frazer says the Richmond store was inundated on the Thursday and Friday when the fire turned for the worse and many people had to evacuate. “Unfortunately, another fire broke out in central Nelson on the Friday too.

There were hundreds of members of the public coming in and the Richmond team was fantastic, helping everyone out as much as they could.

The urgent requests were mainly for stock and pet feed and sanitisation at that stage. We kept normal store hours but operated on an after-hours call-out basis where needed,” he says.
 

Our own Farmlanders evacuated

One staff member and Farmlands shareholder who had a frightening first-hand experience of the evacuation was Peggy Storer, a Salesperson from the Richmond store. As a Teapot Valley resident, her rented lifestyle block and pet horse, goats, chickens and dog were only a few kilometres from the fire’s outbreak.

“We were watching the smoke from the store then I got a call from my husband, Alex, saying, ‘we need to get home now’,” she recalls.

“When we arrived, there was smoke all around the house. The kids were upset and it was so hard to work out what we should pack to take with us. My son took his photos off the wall, my daughter grabbed a lamp and I took a tiki pole that was given to us when we were married – it made me realise we really need an emergency list!”

They managed to get the horse and goats off safely to Peggy’s sister’s property in Ruby Bay but she says it was touch and go rescuing some horses whose owners were away, before the cordon set in. “Everyone just pitched in and was amazing. I know a shareholder who has 27 refugee horses at her place!”

Having evacuated on Tuesday then returned on Wednesday, they were dismayed to see the fire get quickly and completely out of control. Rikki, the Storer’s beloved dog was trapped at home.

“We were all on the corner of the street trying to get in, with the glow coming over the hill and you could feel the heat. The police let us get in for 5 minutes and thankfully we could rescue her. We were so on edge.”

Safely ensconced at her parents’ place in Nelson, Peggy and Alex set about being useful. Alex used his building and management skills to help Farmlands and Federated Farmers at the Showgrounds with everything from animal handling to fence erecting duties.

Peggy co-ordinated volunteers – taking offers of support and matchmaking with those in need. She found her Health and Safety Officer skills came in handy – such as reminding people to have appropriate sun protection or sturdy footwear to avoid risking injury to themselves and hampering the support effort.

“Alex worked long hours at the grounds and was on-call throughout. My 8 year old daughter, Aspen, was off school and came down to the Showgrounds with me, acting as a runner and pointing people in the right direction,” Peggy says.

“Frazer’s support of everyone was amazing. He put everything into it and his presence of mind was incredible. Even when his family couldn’t get back from Blenheim, when he had to look after his son while doing his job and he missed out on part of his 3 year old’s birthday party, he held everything together.”
 

Next…

When people return to their properties Richmond Business Manager, Mel Aitken predicts that they will evaluate the damage and may then need water piping, troughs, fencing and other maintenance supplies. “We have already shipped in extra stock and so are well placed to meet future need. It is just a waiting game now to see what things look like once the fire has been put out,” she says.

Federated Farmers is still taking offers of assistance – call 0800 327 646 and select option 2.

 

Assistance appreciated

  • Sockworks sent 90 pairs of gumboot socks to the firefighters.
  • Gallagher supplied flexi nets to the temporary animal hold at the Showgrounds.
  • NRM and Ballance provided extra stock food.
  • Humes donated water troughs.
  • Purvis Chaff donated 90 bags of lucerne chaff to support the fire horses that were housed at the Richmond A&P Showgrounds.
  • Every farmer that required animals to be evacuated or animal feed was made known to Frazer Clarke and was passed on to the Federated Farmers/MPI database. This equated to about 90 cases where farmers/lifestylers required help of some description.
  • Hundreds of members of the public came into the Farmlands Richmond and Motueka stores to donate goods and services.
  • Hundreds of animals were housed at the A&P Showgrounds in Richmond for a number of days.
  • Hundreds of animals moved to safe grazing land.