Holidaymakers flee Sounds baches

IAN ALLEN
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013

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A rampant scrub fire that destroyed a house and other buildings in the Marlborough Sounds threatened to cut power to hundreds of thousands of North Island homes.

Residents and holidaymakers were last night cleaning up after they were forced to run as the blaze swept through a large area of bush in Flagg Bay, Port Underwood, on Saturday afternoon.

Two firefighters were injured as they tried to douse the inferno and were flown to hospital for treatment.

A house and at least five other buildings were destroyed, but the damage could have been much worse, officials say.

"We could have easily been dealing with fatalities," Marlborough principal rural fire officer Richard McNamara said. A combination of luck and a rapid response from firefighters and helicopters with monsoon buckets saved five houses and stopped a threat to the main power line linking the country's two main islands, McNamara said.

"If that trips, it's big news. The last thing we want to do is cut the North Island's power off." A firefighter suffered smoke inhalation fighting the blaze while another damaged his ribs after he tripped and fell down a bank.

Both were treated at Wairau Hospital and have since been released.

Up to 10 baches had to be evacuated.

Blenheim man Brent Rea was in Flagg Bay with family when the fire began. A man was cutting down a tree with a chainsaw when it fell and clipped a power line, which caused the blaze and power outage, he said.

Marlborough Sounds resident Bob Archer lost three sheds in the blaze, costing him and his partner hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He was sitting in his neighbour's living room when they saw smoke coming past the window.

They went outside to investigate and saw the fire tearing through another neighbour's shed.

"I came back down and grabbed the dogs and hot-footed it down to the beach and rang 111."

Marlborough Helicopters pilot Simon Moar said he was surprised they were able to save some houses. He heard over the radio that one was on fire and when he arrived about six minutes later it was "a pile of iron".

"I didn't even know what type of house it was," Moar said.

McNamara said crews fought the blaze for about seven hours on Saturday and were back yesterday dampening down hot spots.

"We don't want that re-flaring with any increase in temperature or wind," he said. "We are expecting a nor'wester [today] . . . we want to make sure it is well and truly killed by then."

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- The Press

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