Fears vicious fire may reignite

Fire investigators have pinpointed where the wildfire that ripped through rural land southwest of Christchurch started.

Only luck saved more properties from destruction, they say.

The fire, one of the worst in the Selwyn District in a decade, tore through at least two houses and across 150 hectares of farmland between Prebbleton and Lincoln on Thursday afternoon.

It is still smouldering and there are fears it could flare up again if there is a repeat of the blustery nor'westers and high temperatures that have created the conditions for havoc in Canterbury over the past few days.

Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause of the blaze but they believe it started on private land behind the Wheatsheaf Quarry in Selwyn Rd.

They say it quickly spread to neighbouring properties, jumping roads as it carved out its path of destruction.

No-one was injured in the fire, but 18,000 laying hens at a Selwyn Rd egg farm perished.

Two homes were destroyed, as well as some farm buildings.

Neighbours yesterday suggested the blaze may have been started by someone burning rubbish, but the cause is still being investigated.

It is likely to be two to three weeks before the investigation is completed.

Selwyn District Council incident controller Douglas Marshall said that at the height of the blaze helicopters with monsoon buckets and about 150 firefighters, council staff, contractors and volunteers were involved in the firefighting effort.

They had done a remarkable job under very trying circumstances, he said.

Rolleston chief fire officer Nigel Lilley said yesterday that it was due mainly to helicopters with monsoon buckets that the fire was brought under control before more homes and businesses were destroyed.

"We were fighting a losing battle on the ground. It was just too dangerous to get in front of," he said.

As fire crews yesterday worked to damp down hot spots, the community was rallying around those hardest hit by the fire.

A fund has been set up by the council to help the two families who lost their homes, while egg farmers Allan and Judy Marshall have been fielding offers of help from other egg farmers around the South Island.

For others, yesterday was a day to count their blessings.

Merve White was eating his lunch about 2.15pm on Thursday when the fire began advancing on his Shands Rd farm.

"It was thick as billyo here," he said. "I knew once it jumped Selwyn Rd we were in line for it."

White and his partner, Pat, lost vintage cars, two caravans and a shed full of tools and a freezer full of meat, but they consider themselves lucky:

"The house is fine and we're fine," she said.

The Press