Wellington blaze treated as suspicious

PAUL EASTON AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 13:40 21/02/2013
Fairfax NZ

Officials say a large fire which forced the evacuation of dozens of Wellingtonians this morning is suspicious.

Massive blaze threatens Wellington homes

Time lapse: Wellington fire

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The Owhiro Bay fire on Thursday morning.

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Officials are treating a large Wellington scrub fire which forced the evacuation of dozens of people from their homes as suspicious.


Do you know anything more about the blaze? Email your newstips, photos and video to newstips@stuff.co.nz


Incident controller Rachael Thorp said a fire investigator would be joined by detectives at the scene about 4.30pm this afternoon.

''It's being treated as suspicious, but we need to confirm that with the fire investigator.''

It is thought the blaze began near Landfill Rd, she said.

Residents were evacuated about 2am this morning after the fire began moving up a hill south of Brooklyn, covering 10 hectares on Landfill Rd, just off Happy Valley Rd in Owhiro Bay.

The flames, up to five metres high at times, threatened houses early this morning but firefighters were successful in diverting the blaze away from the area.

Fire crews were now working frantically to dampen hot spots before an expected southerly change between 2pm to 3pm this afternoon.

Winds were expected to build in strength to peak at an average speed around 35kmh this evening. Cloud was expected to increase this afternoon with drizzle developing tonight.

At the moment it was looking good, but there were some concerns, Thorp said.

''There's the odd hot spot where it gets into gorse and flares up.

''We're working really hard to get active fronts out so it doesn't jump the containment lines that we've got at the moment.''

Two helicopters with monsoon buckets were still dousing flames while another was transporting firefighters to different areas.

Fifty firefighters were at the scene, Thorp said.

Despite the fire, Happy Valley Rd and Owhiro Bay School were open.

FAMILY OF SEVEN FLEE

A family of seven, including 22-month-old triplets, fled as a wall of flames approached their Wellington home.

"It was like armageddon," said Chris Sadler.

The family, including five children under five, were woken by shouts from neighbours at 2am this morning as the huge blaze took hold in Happy Valley.

"There was a lot of commotion, people sounding really terrified. We opened up the bi-fold doors and the whole hill was on fire," he said.

Wearing just shorts and shoes, Sadler, 35, began scooping up children.

His partner Bonnie Phillips, 37, also grabbed the dog and a hard-drive containing photos.

Sadler had just minutes to get Poppy, 4, 22-month-old triplets Jesse, Jade and Fern, baby Tilly, and the family dog to safety.

"When you've got more kids and hands it gets pretty awkward," Sadler said.

The family fled up a nearby hillside, and watched the flames draw nearer to their home.

RESIDENTS SPEAK OF FEAR

When Wellington resident Michelle Carlile-Alkhouri was woken early this morning she saw "a ring of fire" around her home.

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"It was massive," she said, describing the moment a neighbour banged on her door and told her to get out.

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.

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.

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. 

- Stuff

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