'Terrified' man fears for home as fire roars past

JOELLE DALLY AND MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2014

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Noel Shaskey thought his home of 22 years was a goner as a grass fire tore through 20 hectares of Department of Conservation land in Canterbury.

A discarded cigarette butt may have started the fire along the Christchurch-Akaroa road, near Birdlings Flat, about 2pm yesterday, a day after fire crews struggled to contain a fire on Motuariki Island in Lake Tekapo.

Fuelled by nor'west winds, the fire jumped the road and burned through grassland alongside and behind Shaskey's home, east of the Birdlings Flat turnoff.

A helicopter and fire crews from Little River, Lincoln, Governors Bay, Diamond Harbour, Addington, Rolleston and DOC fought the fire.

"It was just absolutely blazing. I was terrified. It was so close," said Shaskey, who lives by the state highway.

Fire Service Canterbury Area Commander David Berry said crews were stationed near homes that could be under threat.

The fire split into three, one of which came within 20 metres of a home, thought to be Shaskey's. It was out by about 6.30pm with DOC crews staying on to check hot spots.

Shaskey said the fire travelled past his house into a paddock behind his property, then bushes and willow trees on another side "went up with a roar".

The flames reached about two metres in height and the area was covered in smoke.

"I thought I was going to be engulfed. It nearly surrounded my whole place.

"It was a very nasty afternoon. When you're 80-odd you don't expect that."

He suspected "some idiot" had dropped a cigarette butt from a vehicle, igniting dry grass. A campervan had been seen stopping in the area shortly before the fire, he said.

Berry confirmed a cigarette butt was "a possibility, but we'll wait and see".

Meanwhile, holidaymakers were asked to stay away from Motuariki Island in Lake Tekapo after a fire destroyed nearly 90 per cent of its trees.

Constable Brent Swanson, of Tekapo, said he spoke to three Christchurch men in their 20s about the fire in the picnic spot, which started about 6.30pm on Saturday.

"They don't appear to have done anything illegal, it was obviously an accident," he said.

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- The Press

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