Owhiro Bay scrub fire treated as suspicious

Fire crews continue to battle hot spots

PAUL EASTON, STACEY KIRK AND BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 14:59 21/02/2013

Wellington blaze treated as suspicious

Massive blaze threatens Wellington homes

Happy Valley fire before and after

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Officials are treating a large scrub fire which forced the evacuation of dozens of people from their homes as suspicious.

Incident controller Rachael Thorp said a fire investigator was at the scene of the fire.


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''It's being treated as suspicious, but we need to confirm that with the fire investigator.''

It is thought the blaze began near Landfill Rd, she said.

Fire crews are working frantically to dampen hot spots before an expected southerly change.

The area looked good, but there were some concerns, Ms Thorp said.

''There's the odd hot spot where it gets into gorse and flares up.

''We're working really hard to get active fronts out so it doesn't jump the containment lines that we've got at the moment.''

Two helicopters with monsoon buckets were still dousing flames while another was transporting firefighters to different areas.

Fifty firefighters were at the scene, she said.

Detective Inspector Grant Wormald confirmed this afternoon that police would help the Fire Service with their investigation, however conditions meant staff could not get to the area where it was believed the fire began.

"We are hoping to begin a scene examination later today or early tomorrow once the area is accessible, Mr Wormald said.

"It is far too early to say if the fire has been deliberately lit, however, the Rural Fire Service have advised us that it is suspicious."

Helipro base manager Riley Massey said they had had three helicopters in attendance since early this morning.

They would be staying on call over the next couple of days as hot spots were monitored.

"You never know what might happen, with this amount of lovely weather we are having we've just got to be careful."

Residents were evacuated about 2am this morning after the fire began streak up a hill south of Brooklyn and covering 10 hectares on Landfill Rd, just off Happy Valley Rd in Owhiro Bay.

The flames, up to five metres high at times, threatened houses early this morning but firefighters were successful in diverting the blaze away from the area.

Despite the fire, Happy Valley Rd and Owhiro Bay School are open.

About 10-15 households on Rarangi Way were evacuated to Owhiro Bay School in the night, about 30 residents.

Residents were told around 7.15am that they could return to their homes, the annoucement met with applause by those at the Civil Defence evacuation base.

Owhiro Bay resident Lance Shepherd said early this morning wind had not helped emergency services.

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"Fire crews dousing houses and surrounding bush as the prevailing north westerly wind [was] driving the fire rapidly down the ridge in their direction."

Resident Terri Shaw said it was a shock to be woken in the night to hear there was a fire.

"It was horrible, really distressing. You could hear the crackling of the fire and see all the smoke and sparks.''

Ms Shaw praised the hard work of firefighters, and said residents were blessed that the damage was not worse.

Resident Caroline Freer said it was a very scary, and she thought she was going to lose her house.

"Our neighbour rang us at 2am and told us the while hill was on fire and we had to get out. Shortly after the police came to evacuate us.''

Happy Valley Rd resident Michelle Carlile-Alkhouri said she was woken by a neighbour banging on the door, telling her to get out.

"It was just a ring of fire, it was massive, and it looked like it was encroaching on the development - it was pretty scary.''

Ms Carlile-Alkhouri told Radio New Zealand she thought that one of the houses was on fire at one stage last night.

"The children were very frightened at first, but then it was an exciting evening...It was like a fireworks display."

It was difficult to get anything from the house before the area was evacuated, she said.

"We just had to grab what we could." 

She evacuated with her husband, her nine-year-old daughter, her six-year-old son and the family cat.

The family left behind three chickens, 20 doves and two rabbits.

Daughter Naia said: "I was crying and crying. I was worried about all the animals - it was really scary, I will never forget it.''

Earlier reports indicated the fire could be burning for two to three days, but fire service spokesman Kevin Morrison said the risk of that had been reduced.

"But we will be monitoring it over the next couple of days just to be sure."

MetService said around sunrise winds were gusting up to 35kmh from the northeast in Wellington.

In the two hours to 6am the average wind speed had been 30kmh, but was expected to ease through the morning into early afternoon.

At mid-afternoon winds would swing to the south, then build in strength to peak at an average speed around 35kmh this evening.

Cloud was expected to increase this afternoon with drizzle developing tonight. 

- The Dominion Post

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