United Kingdom — The strong north-west winds that have hampered firefighters battling several big blazes in the South Canterbury area have eased greatly tonight.
Firefighters have been battling a major fire at Waimate, one of around 200 that ignited in the past 24 hours.
The Fire Service received around 500 calls in that time, and around 200 of those were actual fires, ranging in size from small scrub fires to the large blaze at Waimate.
But tonight all blazes are out, apart from the Waimate fire and one other large fire burning in Ashworth in the Amberley area. The Amberley fire near Leithfield Beach, in North Canterbury, measures one kilometre by two kilometres and helicopters are attempting to douse the flames with monsoon buckets tonight.
There were 70 firefighters battling that blaze and the two families had been evacuated in case a wind change threatened their homes overnight, Area Commander Dan Coward said.
The Waimate fire took hold yesterday afternoon and later spread into forest. It has damaged around 180 hectares of scrub and is not expected to be fully out until Christmas day. Also at risk is 120 hectares of 29 year old forestry.
Seven helicopters were brought in to assist ground more than 60 firefighters crews, who are unable to go right into the forest because of the danger posed by two possible incendiaries – a wood chip plant and 400 litres of diesel stored in a shed in the area.
The Fire Service had three tankers working to contain the blaze and rural fire fighters were in attendance as well. Nor-west winds and soaring temperatures have smothered the region for a second day, making fire control difficult but progress is being made.
“Due to the size of the fire, we elected to bring in a regional incident management team. There is currently personnel from seven agencies working together to keep this fire contained,” South Canterbury Rural Fire principal officer Rob Hands said.
“They were hampered a wee bit by the wind but they did a good job. The relative humidity has risen and that seems to have knocked the stuffing out of the fire,” said Bryan Jensen, from the regional incident management team.
Police closed State Highway 82 between Hodges Road and Parkers Bush Road in South Canterbury because of the blaze.
“It’s so dry and this wind isn’t helping with the fires they’ve had in the last couple of days. It’s quite intense,” said Alan Ladds, a volunteer firefighter.
Meanwhile, a large fire in the town of Rolleston threatened nearby properties for a time and several houses had to be evacuated by police before it was contained, Fire Service communications centre shift manager Karl Patterson said.
Five water tankers, four appliances, support vehicles and helicopters were needed to bring the fire under control.
No one was injured and the fire was “all done and dusted”, Patterson said.
Both blazes have been blamed on the extreme high temperatures in the region.
Southern communications shift manager Andrew Norris said “extremely high winds and high temperatures” had set off a spate of fires in the last 24 hours from Invercargill to North Canterbury.
Most fires had been minor and caused by trees falling on power lines or scrub burn offs reigniting. Yesterday firefighters also battled a sawmill blaze in Loburn, north of the Christchurch suburb of Rangiora.
No injuries have been reported in any of the fires.