Wind starts 200ha forest fire in Canterbury

Wind starts 200ha forest fire in Canterbury

11 September 2013

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New Zealand — Fire crews are battling a huge forest fire in Canterbury this morning as the region recovers from violent winds overnight.

The onslaught has uprooted trees, pulled tiles of roofs, left thousands without power, shut schools, closed roads and started several large fires.

Three helicopters and a number of rural crews are fighting a 200 hectare forest blaze in Ashley.

Fire service spokesman Brent Dunn says the fire is under control, but crews are having difficulty putting it out.

“It’s big, it’s under control though,” he told 3 News this morning. “We are having difficult accessing terrain due to blown down trees, it’s quite a dangerous area.”

Crews are also battling two large fires in Kaikoura, a blaze in Ashburton and another in Rakaia.

Most are suspected to have been started by power lines downed in the wind.

Mr Dunn says it has been a long night for emergency services, with over 1000 calls since midday yesterday.

“In the communications centre we doubled our staffing just to cope with the workload and to make sure we were taking breaks and that, because it’s pretty intense,” he says.

“We [also] had availability crews in Christchurch and Timaru called in and they were running quite far out of their normal districts.”

The Fire Service has also been called to a number of other wind-related incidents, with the gusts causing widespread damage.

“We’re quite busy with that sort of stuff,” Mr Dunn says. “It’s mostly damage like roof tiles being lifted, corrugated iron blowing around, trees falling down on property and vehicles and across driveways and things.”

Power is still out to nearly 14,000 Mainpower customers north of Christchurch from Waimakariri to Kaikoura.

Dozens of Orion contractors are also out frantically trying to get 19,000 homes and businesses across other parts of Canterbury back on the grid.

The outage is heavily affecting local farmers, who desperately need to milk their cows.

Federated Famers Canterbury provincial president Chris Allen says they’re currently trying to find out how many herds weren’t able to be milked this morning.

“There’s multiple trees down over power lines so they’ll take a wee while to clear,” he says. “There’s defiantly a shortage of diesel generators.”

Meanwhile, the West Coast is currently bearing the brunt of the storm. There are warnings heavy downpours could cause flash flooding, and may also lead to slips.

Regional council hydrologist Stefan Beaumont says they’re keeping a close eye on rising river levels.

“At the moment the storm’s been moving further north so it’s now out in the Grey and Buller areas, there’s been no alarms for the Grey area yet but we’re watching it pretty closely.”

State Highway 6 between Haast and Makarora has been closed.

Closed highways

SH 6 Haast to Makarora (Haast Pass) – Due to flooding
SH 94 Te Anau to Milford Sound – Due to snow
SH 1 Johns Rd to Sawyers Arms roundabout

Closed schools
Ashley School
Burnham School
Clearview Primary School
Darfield High School
Darfield Primary School
Fernside School
Ellesmere College
Kaiapoi North School
Ohoka School
Rangiora High School
Rolleston School
Weedons School

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