Wellington blaze: 'It was just a ring of fire'
PAUL EASTON AND STACEY KIRK
Marlborough Express reporter Anna Williams woken at 2am and told to evacuate
I was woken about 2am by a frantic, insistent knocking at the door.
I'm staying with my friend and her parents in Rarangi Way, off Happy Valley Rd, Wellington and I thought it was my friend coming home and not being able to get in the house.
Her parents had just bought the house after moving from Christchurch after the earthquakes.
A neighbour was shouting ''fire'' and banging on everyone's door in Rarangi Way, a new town house block built about two years ago, near Owhiro Bay.
My friend and her parents all woke up and we scrambled around gathering things then raced downstairs to the car.
When we got outside the fire was about 100 metres behind the house.
About 15 houses in Rarangi Way were evacuated, and families were frantically rushing around preparing to leave the area.
We drove away from the fire and parked up on Murchison St where we could see the fire spreading along the ridge of the hills and down towards the house.
The northwesterly wind was driving the flames down the hill as the evacuated residents watched, hoping the flames would not reach their houses.
We left about 5am and went to sleep at a friends house.
Around 8am we were told we could return to the house while firefighters continued to dampen out the hot spots on the hill.
Smoke had poured through the open windows in the house and filled it with an acrid smell.
No houses in the area were damaged. Helicopters and firefighters have contained the fire and are still working to put out the fire raging on the ridge.
When Wellington resident Michelle Carlile-Alkhouri was woken early this morning she saw "a ring of fire" around her home.
"It was massive," she said, describing the moment a neighbour banged on her door and told her to get out.
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The fire, which began just before 2am, and raced up a hill south of Brooklyn, caused the evacuation of scores of residents in south Wellington.
Firefighters were still battling the blaze, with a flare-up on a ridge being doused by two helicopters with monsoon buckets.
Carlile-Alkhouri evacuated with her husband, nine-year-old daughter, six-year-old son and the family cat.
"It looked like it was encroaching on the development - it was pretty scary.''
The family left behind three chickens, 20 doves and two rabbits which they had been worried about.
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.''
Shaw praised the hard work of firefighters, and said residents were blessed that the damage was not worse.
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 whole hill was on fire and we had to get out. Shortly after the police came to evacuate us.''
Earlier, Owhiro Bay resident Lance Shepherd said wind was not helping emergency services.
"Fire crews are dousing houses and surrounding bush as the prevailing northwesterly wind is driving the fire rapidly down the ridge in their direction."
Residents were told around 7.15am that they could return to their homes, an announcement met with applause by the crowd at a Civil Defence centre at Owhiro Bay School.
However, firefighters expected to battle the blaze for the next couple of days. Initially 20-50 houses were directly affected, with many evacuated.
Fire Service spokesman Brett Lockyer said about 10-15 households on Rarangi Way - about 30 residents - were evacuated in the night.
The fire was burning toward the houses, but firefighters were successful in diverting the blaze away from the area.
While homes were no longer in danger, the slow-burning fire was still going on two flanks, Lockyer said.
Two helicopters with monsoon buckets were working to douse the fire, and a third was on its way.
Rural service firefighters were on the ground trying to battle the fire, but there were some parts of scrub too dangerous for them to get anywhere near.
The fire was stretching across 40-50 hectares on Landfill Rd, just off Happy Valley Rd. Happy Valley Rd was closed to traffic between Owhiro Bay and Landfill Rd.
It was far too early to tell the cause of the fire, the Fire Service said.
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.
NORTHERN FIRE CONTAINED
Firefighters have worked for two nights to contain a scrub fire near Tapora, north of Auckland.
The blaze has been held at 70 hectares after it was spread rapidly yesterday by strong easterly winds.
The Fire Service used heavy machinery and helicopters to isolate the blaze and stop its growth.
"The crews used tractors to create fire breaks in the north and helicopters held it in the south," said Fire Service spokesman Jaron Phillips.
Yesterday two helicopters and 13 rural fire trucks were working to stop the fire.
Two crews continued to work overnight and will be joined by further crews this morning.
The fire started at around 11pm Tuesday night
''The fire (was) burning in two metre-high gorse and pampas grass, scrub and trees. It grew from a 200m by 50m piece of land at a rate of 150m an hour,'' said Phillips.
There were no reported injuries and no homes were under threat.
''There are some baches north of the fire, but there is no risk to properties as of yet.''
The cause of the fire had not been determined.
Meanwhile, firefighters were still at the scene of a series of suspicious fires west of Hamilton this morning.
Northern fire communications spokesman Jaron Phillips confirmed there were four fires this morning on Old Mountain Rd.
Eight fire trucks fought the fires on Old Mountain Rd, Karamu, after the emergency call came in about 4.30am.
Phillips said the most severe blaze burned through two hectares of gorse and scrub.
It was now contained and firefighters continued to dampen down hotspots.
A fire investigator from Hamilton was at the scene.
Earlier, there were two separate vegetation fires near Kinloch, Lake Taupo, and another on Ruakiwi Rd, Waingaro.
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