Homes burn in Canterbury scrub fire
NICOLE MATHEWSON, JOELLE DALLY AND CAROLINE KING
Another fire has caused evacuations in Christchurch after four homes were destroyed in a scrub fire on the outskirts of the city.
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The most recent blaze threatened homes on Halkett Rd in West Melton overnight.
Fire Service southern communications shift manager Riwai Grace said four fire trucks had been battling a fire burning across a stubble paddock that broke out around 11.30pm.
Grace said the fire was moving towards properties and residents were evacuated.
All the homes destroyed earlier today were near Prebbleton, in Christchurch's southwest.
The fire, which started about 3pm in a quarry at the corner of Selwyn and Shands roads, was been contained this evening, Selwyn Mayor Kelvin Coe said.
‘‘This would be one of the more serious fires we’ve had in Selwyn for some time,’’ he said.
‘‘The full impact on people and their businesses and their livelihoods will be understood in the next 24 hours.’’
A number of homes in the area had been evacuated and anyone displace was advised to go to the Lincoln Events Centre if they were unable to make other arrangements, Coe said.
Firefighters will remain in the area overnight to dampen down hot spots.
Fire investigator Graham Davies said during the blaze firefighters had been forced to retreat due to the danger.
Five helicopters with monsoon buckets and at least 20 fire trucks were used to fight the fire, Radio New Zealand reported.
This afternoon smoke could be seen from the central city.
Shands Rd resident Clive Hartley grabbed his dog and fled after fire closed in around his property this afternoon.
Hartley saw the fire start about 500 metres away and quickly spread across two roads to come near his home.
He shares the home with his parents and brother but was the only one there as the fire approached.
Using a hose, he put out the patches of grass that were catching fire.
"Once the neighbour's pine hedge was going up, the sparks from that were flying everywhere, and there's not much you can do then."
He left the property about 3.30pm and had not been allowed back when spoken to this afternoon.
"It got to the stage where it wasn't safe for me any more. I grabbed the dog, but nothing else really worries me."
As he left, he saw his woodshed go up in flames. He did not know if the house was still standing.
"It's in the hands of God now really. There wasn't a lot there to burn, so I'm hoping that basically it burnt round the edges," he said.
The blaze was one in a series of fires across Canterbury today as the weather creates "tinderbox" conditions.
Two tanker crews were also fighting a grass fire in Waterloo Rd in Hornby has to call for backup and a grass fire broke out in Lunns Rd, behind Hamilton Jet.
MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said the front that was bringing the hot, "tinderbox" dry and gusty nor'west winds was "pushing its way through".
He said the winds were easing, compared with this morning, when they were recorded at 89kmh at Christchurch International Airport.
Mt Hutt had wind gusts of 230kmh this morning, and Mt Cook recorded gusts of 170kmh.
Winds in Christchurch were about 56kmh, Corbett said.
"The winds are easing everywhere. It's still breezy but not as mean and nasty as it was. It's slowly going to improve."
Another front was expected to come through on Saturday, but it would not bring as strong northwest winds, Corbett said.
Meanwhile, firefighters brought a blaze at Christchurch's Beckenham School under control earlier today and managed to save the under-threat school hall.
Four crews were sent to the Sandwich Rd school shortly after noon and two more were called in as back-up.
Residents described thick black smoke and flames shooting out of the roof and one couple said they heard an explosion.
Fire Service acting assistant area commander Mike Bowden said the fire was believed to have started outside the school's library and spread quickly into both the library and an adjoining multi-purpose room, used by an after-school care programme.
Specialist fire investigators and police would be called in to determine the cause.
''School fires at this time of year have a natural suspicion. We're quite hopeful there is some security footage around, but it's way to early yet to tell how it started,'' he said.
Bowden said the flames and smoke were visible from several kilometres away.
The strong nor'west wind has driven the fire through the roof and spread from there, he said.
''Our main strategy was to stop the fire spreading into the hall, which we have been successful in doing.''
Mark Collins, who lived opposite the school, said the fire quickly grew, fanned by the strong, warm winds.
"It was very fast. We just watched it getting bigger and bigger and bigger,'' he said.
"The wind was blowing the flames into the building itself."
- The Press
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