Fresh fire rips through plantation

CHARLEY MANN AND GEORGINA STYLIANOU AND CAROLINE KING
Last updated 15:52 11/01/2013
Daniel Tobin

Firefighters and helicopters dampen down the area where a fire swept through a West Melton pine plantation.

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Daniel Tobin Zoom
UNDER CONTROL: Rural fire crews assist at the West Melton fire.
Bev Throsby
David Hallett Zoom
GUTTED: The frame of Bev Throsby's home remains standing.

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A major fire in a West Melton pine plantation is under control, but not before 300 motorcyclists were evacuated from a nearby speedway.

Fire Service acting area commander Dave Berry said the fire, which started near the Waimakariri River stopbanks, spread across 80 to 100 hectares, ripping through a plantation.

Nine tankers, six fire trucks and three helicopters battled the blaze. 

"We've contained the fire at this stage. We've hit it hard and we've hit it fast," Berry said.

He said it was unclear what started the fire, which was visible from most parts of Christchurch.

He said a couple of leaseholders downwind from the fire had to be evacuated, but were soon able to return.

About 300 people gathered for a sidecar championship were evacuated.

No homes were affected.

There was also no reports of stock loss, Berry said.

He said it was fortunate the wind was not as strong today as it was yesterday.

Most roads were open.

Berry said fire crews would remain on "high alert" for the weekend. 

He said people should remain vigilant and report any sign of fire immediately.

The West Melton blaze is the latest in a spate of fires around Christchurch, the worst of which destroyed four properties south of Prebbleton yesterday.

There is a total fire ban in the region.

300 MOTORCYCLISTS EVACUATED

About 300 motorcycle enthusiasts were asked to leave the Moorepark Speedway, near West Melton.

A police spokesman said the speedway visitors left the track ''pretty quickly''.

''Everyone was really co-operative and I think they all understood the potential severity of it, given yesterday's events,'' he said.

Police did not think any residents would have to evacuate their homes because of the fire, near the intersection with Old West Coast Rd.

However, one resident, who did not want to be named, was packing up her valuables ''in case we need to leave''.

In the 16 years she had lived in the area she had never seen a fire ''so big or so close''.

''I'm starting to get a bit worried,'' she said.

''There is so much smoke. My grandson has let the hens out and I've got the dog tied up so I can grab him if we have to go.''

Selwyn resident Bob Tait was on his ride-on mower when he saw smoke.

"I thought I should drive down and have a look."

Tait, whose property is in Weedons Ross Rd, said he was not concerned about the blaze threatening his house.

He was among those gathered in Old West Coast to observe the blaze.

"It's probably three times wider now than when I first saw it," he said.

Cows nearby were beginning to get spooked by the fire and billowing smoke.

Smoke can be seen rising in the area from the central city.

The Orana Wildlife Park has sent staff with fire equipment to West Melton. 

A spokeswoman said the local fire brigade had called for help. 

''We have some fire equipment here so at least two staff members have gone to West Melton to help,'' she said. 

Road cordons are in place in Thompsons Rd and Weedons Ross Rd, police said.

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ASHBURTON FIRE

A large scrub fire has sprung up by the Clay Target Shooting club on Alford Forest Rd, Ashburton.

Fire crews at the scene said the blaze was about 50 meters long and at least 30 metres wide.

Three appliances and a tanker are at the scene.

TWO CUST FIRES

The Cust Volunteer Fire Brigade battled two scrub fires this morning - both sparked by machinery. 

Fire crews attended a fire started by a tractor at 10.30am and then attended another scrub fire caused by a grinder at 11.30am.

Cust chief fire officer Peter Clements said the fires would have been worse if yesterday's winds had not eased. 

''It's truly bone-dry out here and people need to be so careful,'' he said. 

The two fires caused extensive vegetation damage, but no property was damaged, he said. 

''The dry weather really is making things difficult, but we've been lucky to not have any major fires out here. Touch wood we don't have one.''

Both scrub fires were under control, Clements said.

- The Press

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