One house, outbuildings destroyed in wild fire west of Christchurch
A Canterbury man and his father stood and watched as the "legacy of the family farm" succumbed to flames.
Graeme and Roger Knowles battled to keep the spreading wildfire away from their home, about 15 kilometres outside of Darfield, Graeme Knowles told RNZ National.
But they lost the battle at about 6pm on Thursday evening.
Five homes – three in Coalgate in the Malvern Hills west of Christchurch and two near Mt Somers – were saved by firefighters on Thursday after wind-fuelled fires ripped across rural Canterbury.
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Graeme Knowles told RNZ he salvaged a car, jet boat and tractor from the property and his father grabbed his accounts and chequebook.
He believed a monsoon bucket would have "absolutely" saved the property from the blaze but said fire crews were fighting more than 30 separate fires in the area.
"[The wind] was just picking up embers and taking them about 700 or 800 metres.
"Some paddocks in between haven't been touched – the fire jumped whole paddocks."
He told RNZ that a digger flattened the property late on Thursday night.
"I'm not quite sure how I feel about it," he said.
"The legacy of the family farm is no longer standing."
"The only thing dad grabbed was the accounts and his checkbook, he said. And I managed to get a car out of the shed, and a jetboat and a tractor."
He didn't manage to get any photo albums or anything of sentimental value.
"We didn't even think of that. At that stage we thought we had the house sorted out."
"I don't know how to feel to tell the truth."
Firefighters are returning to the site of the fire on Friday, which destroyed the Knowles' home, several outbuildings and forced residents to evacuate.
Fire Service southern communications shift manager Daryl Ball said a rural fire officer had returned to the site of the fire on Friday morning.
"We are just heading back out there now to see what's going on and make sure everything's going alright."
"We had a little bit of a flare up in the hedgeline, we are just going to send someone else out to that."
Ball said the rural fire officer would do some "surveillance" of the area and decide what resources were required for the day ahead.
The fire was fuelled by strong winds, which also caused havoc elsewhere up and down the South Island.
Winds of around 60kmh in Darfield were gusting to 90kmh at times, MetService meteorologist Derek Holland said.
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An old rural burn-off re-igniting is thought to have sparked the first, bigger, blaze in Rowallan Rd, Coalgate, about 3.20pm.
Fuelled by strong nor'west winds, it spread south east fast. The main fire leapt Deans Rd and burned through 60 hectare of rural land before firefighters got it under control at Homebush Road at about 7.45pm.
Some 21 fire engines, four helicopters and more than 80 firefighters battled several blazes in scorching temperatures and winds gusting up to 90kmh.
They saved three houses on Rowallan Rd but one, on Homebush Rd, was destroyed. The owners were said to be very upset. Two sheds were destroyed.
Police evacuated residents from Rowallan and Deans roads and set up cordons to keep people away from the scene.
At 5pm, firefighters were called to a second large blaze in Tramway Rd in Mt Somers, Mid-Canterbury.
There, 15 fire crews saved two homes and a shed. About 50 firefighters were at the scene tackling seven similar fires.
POWER CUT, SMOKE TRAVELS KILOMETRES
The fires blew smoke across Christchurch and cut power to hundreds of homes across Selwyn on Thursday evening. Linesmen started to reconnect residents as night fell.
Five people were helped at a welfare centre set up at Darfield Recreation Centre.
A Selwyn District Council spokesman said fire crews were assessing when those evacuated could return to their homes. There were no reports of injuries.
Most firefighters left the scene about 8.30pm, when the strong northwest wind turned southerly and the fire started burning back on to itself.
Some firefighters were to stay overnight to ensure the fire stayed under control. Helicopters stopped flying about 8.15pm.
Fire Service area commander Dave Berry said initial suggestions were that the blaze started from an old rural burn-off, which would have had a permit, he said.
'FIRE IS THE GREATEST FEAR'
Rowallan Rd resident Gillie Deans, who owns Auchenflower farm, was among those evacuated.
As they left she saw her hay shed with the winter feed "fully engulfed in flames".
"Living here, we've always known that fire is the greatest fear," she said.
Their first house on the site burnt down in 2000 and they "lost everything".
"When you live in the country and it's dry, you are always on alert," she said.
Cullens Rd resident John Manhire said he saw a burn off in the Rowallan Rd area about three weeks ago and feared it may have been reignited by the warm winds.
"Hopefully, no one was stupid enough to have a burn off on a day like this," he said.
"Things are quite dry and there is a lot of dry stubble around, so if this fire gets away it could move quite fast."
Louise Deans, who owns the historic Homebush homestead, looked after a local resident who had to be evacuated.
She said the fire burned on farm neighbouring her property.
"It was pillars of black smoke filling the sky," she said.
Deans said there had been many burn-offs in the area recently.
RESTRICTED FIRE SEASON
The entire Selwyn District is in a restricted fire season, meaning people cannot light fires in the open air without a fire permit issued by the principal rural fire officer.
The council reassured residents via its Facebook page there would be an investigation into the Coalgate blaze.
"Anyone who is found to be breaching fire restrictions or fire safety guideline can be responsible for the cost of fire fighting and fire damage if the investigation finds them liable."
GUSTS TO DIE DOWN
Metservice says the gales, roaring at up to 130kmh, would die down from about midnight on Thursday in Canterbury, Otago, Wellington, Wairarapa and the Marlborough Sounds.
Banks Peninsula and Hawke's Bay would be hammered into early Friday morning by winds that had the potential to become severe gales.
The winds had potential to bring down trees and powerlines, damage unsecured structures and make driving hazardous, particularly for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles, Metservice said.
People in those areas were also advised to be aware of the fire risk.