Large scrub fire near Arthur's Pass in Canterbury to blaze through the night video

IAIN MCGREGOR/Stuff.co.nz

Bush fire burning off SH73 near Arthurs Pass

A large fire near Arthur's Pass is expected to blaze through the night.

Firefighters are using five helicopters to battle the flames that temporarily closed State Highway 73.

Department of Conservation deputy principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes said they were using a "steady steady" approach to fight the large wildfire at Mt Horrible near Cass in Canterbury.

The bush fire near Cass off SH73, a route to the West Coast.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The bush fire near Cass off SH73, a route to the West Coast.

Aerial crews would operate until night fall on Monday evening, and start again at 7am on Tuesday.

At 2pm, the fire was under control but not fully contained and they could not guarantee it would not spread further, Janes said.

A crew would monitor the area overnight and a team of 20-25 firefighters are expected to move in from the edges from early morning on Tuesday.

Five helicopters will battle a large fire until nightfall, with ground crews moving in early on Tuesday morning.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Five helicopters will battle a large fire until nightfall, with ground crews moving in early on Tuesday morning.

Janes said unstable hillsides and rockfall risk made firefighting from the ground difficult.

"Rocks are falling onto the highway and endangering firefighters."

One firefighter had suffered an eye injury from the dust in the air.

He said the fire was in an "very awkward position, but not crazy big."

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The fire was about 1 square kilometre in size, burning in a steep area of shrub south of Arthur's Pass, Janes said.

Firefighters were alerted shortly after 2am.

At 10am, Janes said aerial and ground crews were bringing the fire under control.

Northwest winds up to 50km an hour were forecast from midday.

Janes said the wind shift had not been as significant as first thought, and the concern "did not eventuate to anything nasty."

There was no indication how the fire started, said Janes; "It is a weird time for a fire to start.

Initial thoughts had suggested the fire was caused by campers, but there had been no signs of cigarettes or butts, no campfire and no cars nearby.

SH73 was closed until 9.30am, due to fire risk and falling debris.

Janes said they hoped the road would not need to be closed again.

Rural fire officer and incident controller Brian Taylor said the conditions were "a bit dangerous."

He said there was also a danger as the fire was close to the main power feed to the West Coast on the right, and risk of wind continued due to the surrounding valleys which could "pick up a fire ember and carry it quite a long way."

While the fire was not threatening property or people, a number of sheep were on the land where the fire was located.

"They are being removed at the moment by farmers from Cora Lynn, which is the farm where the fire is burning."

Bealey Hotel manager Kim Gillespie said smoke from the fire had filled the valley

"There is a lot of smoke going up the hill and we can smell it outside," he said.

"I hope it doesn't get any worse because we need the road open for people to get through to us."

The hotel was full overnight, with many guests heading for Christchurch on Monday morning, Gillespie said.

"A lot of them must be stuck while the road is closed, but they haven't come back so they must be waiting for it to open."

 - Stuff

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