Blaze sparked at army gun range

Last updated 18:04 23/01/2013
Daniel Tobin

Firefighters and soldiers joined together to fight a large fire that started at the army's West Melton rifle range.

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IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ Zoom
NOT BOTHERED: Dogs are evacuated on the back of a ute as the fire tries to jump across Weedons Ross Rd.
west melton fire
Amy Grant
ALARMING: West Melton resident Amy Grant took this image of the fire, which is about 2.5km from her house.

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A large scrub fire in West Melton, near Christchurch, was likely caused by activity at an army rifle range, the New Zealand Defence Force says.

However, a spokesman said the fire’s exact cause would not be determined until a full investigation had taken place.

Fire crews and soldiers using six helicopters, 11 tankers and seven pumps spent the afternoon trying to the fire under control. Firefighters were alerted to the blaze just after midday.

A Defence Force employee was injured in the fire, an army spokesman said.

Five properties and the West Melton aerodrome were evacuated this afternoon after the fire burned out of control.

Residents have been allowed to return to their homes now that the fire has been contained, but some roads will stay closed.

A police spokesman said cordons along Old West Coast Rd had been removed.

However, Weedons Ross Rd, west of the rifle range, will remain closed overnight, along with a Waimakariri River-side track connecting it to Macleans Island Rd and Range Rd, the spokesman said.

A welfare and reconciliation centre has been established at the West Melton Community Centre.

Halswell resident Andy Wilkinson, who lives by the quarry, said earlier the fresh blaze seemed worse than the recent Prebbleton fire, and his house smelt like a bonfire.

"Even with the Shands Rd one you couldn't really smell it. The wind is probably blowing the smoke towards us."

He said he noticed the smoke about 12.30pm and saw a huge plume when he looked out the window.

West Melton resident Amy Grant said had burned about 2.5km from her house.

Police had advised her she should prepare to leave her home.

"I have been watching all the fire trucks coming in from town and helicopters flying around the area with monsoon buckets," she said.

"It's a rather scary thing since this is the third time now there has been a fire down Thompsons Rd way in the last two to three weeks."

Megan Grant, who was in Old West Coast Rd, said it looked like the fire was "travelling down the pines".

In Halswell, Antonia Hides said a "massive cloud of smoke" was rising above the houses.

"It looks much bigger than last week's [fire]," she said.

Smoke from the fire was visible from central Christchurch.

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