Ōhau residents begin anew after fire razed houses

Source: 1News

A year on from a devastating wildfire, residents of the small alpine village of Ōhau are moving back in.

The village, in the Mackenzie Basin, rests on the shores of lake Ōhau, but its picturesque surroundings were changed forever by one of New Zealand's worst ever wildfires.

It was frightening and fast for residents when the wildfire ripped through Ōhau in the middle of the night.

But a year on, today was a chance for those residents to reflect and pay their respects.

There was huge gratitude for the men and women who fought one of the country's worst fires.

Waitaki District Mayor, Gary Kircher said, “I just can't say enough about".

“They got here, they were right in a major fire storm and to show the levels of bravery and heroism that night to actually save lives, save homes and do everything they did, we just can't say enough.”

The fire destroyed 48 homes and reduced the alpine village to ruins. No-one was killed.

Ōhau resident Martin Heal told 1News that the community praised the actions of the firefighters that day.

“They faced a fire, for New Zealand standards, that was horrendous.

“It's really, really humbling, the people that were here, our firefighters on the ground, the pilots in the air, coastguards that assisted us, they're just all amazing people and we're truly fortunate to have people like that in New Zealand that will drop everything to help other New Zealanders,” Fire and Emergency spokesperson, Michael Harrison said.

The massive insurance bill is sparking warnings about where we should build homes.

When 1News was at the village on Sunday, change was in the air.

Six months ago, Martin Heal's home was being rebuilt. "It's a bit different since the last time you were here,” he said. 

The resident of 20 years was only given the keys to his new home just two weeks ago.

“I think it's absolutely wonderful, I really do," he said.

A stone's throw away, residents Norman and Barbara Mackay have been settling in after losing everything.

“I'm pleased to be back in Ōhau, the area, do the same walks with my dogs, the same beautiful view” said Norman Mackay.

As is Mary Miller, she was one of the first homeowners to rebuild.

“It was so different a year ago. We were sort of all in shock milling in Twizel and now I'm back here in the mountains. The mountains don't change."

Other homeowners are slowly returning with more building planned.

“There's about 17 building consents have been issued there's certainly some houses finished, and people moved back into them.”

There's still a way to go to rebuild the village.

“I have no wish to leave,” said Miller.