Scrub fire finally subdued

TIM DONOGHUE AND ELLE HUNT
Last updated 11:16 24/02/2013

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The Happy Valley scrub fire in the hills above Wellington's south coast appears to have finally been subdued.

Principal Rural Fire Officer Jack Darragh said Wellington's south coast residents could now rest easy as his crews had subdued the fire, which flared up again on Friday and Saturday nights.

Two rural fire crews and a helicopter were sent to attend to the latest flare-up about 7.30pm last night.

No residents were  evacuated as a result of the latest flare-up and, while it was in a hard to access place, it was relatively easy to extinguish.

"I'm up on the hill in the middle of a big dark patch this morning and there is no sign of smoke anywhere. I don't believe it is totally extinguished yet but residents don't need to be worried.

"There's a couple of us keeping a close eye on things to make sure people will be able to sleep soundly in their beds tonight," Mr Darragh said this morning.

About 35 residents from Rarangi Way and Happy Valley Rd in Wellington's southern suburb of Happy Valley fled their homes early on Thursday morning, as the fire spread in the dead of night, coming within metres of about half a dozen homes.

Firefighters and two helicopters with monsoon buckets battled the blaze all day Thursday.

Crews from the Rural Fire Service kept watch on the site last night, amid concerns strong southerly winds may whip the flames up again.

Resident Wayne Bowden said he and his family decided to stay the night after being reassured they were safe by fire crews.

But at least three of his neighbours stayed away, he said.

''Some were a bit nervous, and decided to stay with family or friends.''

Chris Sadler, who had fled the fire with his partner and five children, decided to stay at home.

''It was okay, but we felt a bit uncomfortable at first. We were still a bit traumatised.''

A joint Fire Service and police investigation into the fire's cause started yesterday morning.

It was thought the fire began near Landfill Rd.

"Scrub fires [in the middle of the night] are very, very rarely self-ignited - they don't just happen spontaneously," Fire Service Wellington area manager Peter Dempsey said.

"That's why there will be the initial suspicion put on the blaze."

The fire could cost taxpayers up to $100,000, Darragh said.

"It looked like the world was coming to an end [when I arrived]. Massive 50-foot flames and smoke."

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."

Later in the morning she watched as helicopters with monsoon buckets doused a flare-up, 50 metres from her Rarangi Way house.

"We really have been blessed. It could have been a lot worse."

Shaw praised the hard work of firefighters.

Most residents who left their homes went to Owhiro Bay School, where they were looked after and given breakfast by staff and Civil Defence volunteers.

About 7.15am they were told they could return to their homes - an announcement that was met with applause.

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

"Our neighbour rang us at 2am and told us the whole 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."

She and her husband grabbed children Naia, 9, and Luka, 6, and the family cat.

They left behind three chickens, 20 doves and two rabbits, but were assured by firefighters they would be okay.

- The Dominion Post

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