Fires forces evacuation, destroy homes near Christchurch

Four houses were believed destroyed, residents were evacuated and firefighters treated for smoke inhalation as scrub fires burnt out of control on Christchurch's south-western fringe tonight.

Ten people were rescued in a "snap rescue" from a property at the fire on Shands Rd.

"They got in fast and got out fast," said fire service centre manager Ian Lynn.

Selwyn District Mayor Kelvin Coe said appliances from all over the region helped fight the Selwyn Road blaze, including crews from Banks Peninsula.

"All hands are on deck."

They would be at the site well into tomorrow, he said.

Anybody who had been evacuated because of the fires was urged to stay with friends or family.

"For anyone who can't, we have a welfare centre being set up at the Lincoln Events Centre to cater for any of their needs," Mr Coe said.

Roads were blocked to stop traffic entering the area, although residents were let through the cordons to salvage what they could in case their homes were affected.

The main seat of the fire, at Prebbleton, was under control by about 8.30pm and helicopters with monsoon buckets were concentrating on attacking hotspots, police at a checkpoint in Lincoln said.

However, the wind was still strong and firefighters were taking no chances in case of flare-ups.

Critical to beating the blaze was preventing it from jumping across Springs Road, police said.

Hedges and silos near Springs Rd were engulfed at the peak of the blaze, but firefighters managed to keep it from jumping Springs Rd into what would have been dry, open pastureland.

Student Emily Spink was in tears when she came home to find her family home in the firing line of the fire.

"Mum and dad are away, and they've left me in charge," she sobbed.

The Spink family's lifestyle block on Robinsons Rd was downwind from the flames.

While four helicopters filling monsoon buckets from swimming pools and irrigation tanks had contained the blaze, the roaring nor'west wind continued to fan it.

Miss Spink was "shocked" when she found her house was behind the cordon.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said.

Her parents were outside of cellphone and web coverage while holidaying at Gore Bay in North Canterbury.

"I'm all by myself and there's always a chance the worst can happen."

Farmer John Quinn leaned on a fencepost at the Springs Rd cordon and shook his head, as firefighters battled to stop the blaze spreading to his property.

"Bloody nor'wester," he said.

In spite of the fact the fire at the Kimihia crop research centre could be stirred up to cross the road and engulf his farmhouse at any time, Mr Quinn was philosophical.

"Being in the rural life you get kicks in the guts all the time. You just have to start up again," he said.

Fields had gone to seed, and coupled with a lack of spring rains and the relentless north-west winds, the fires were inevitable, he said.

"It's bloody dry."

But he had confidence that the helicopters would bring the fires under control, even if it took a few days.

"It's got hold of the gorse, which has dry roots that go deep in the ground.

"They get it under control and then it sparks up again."

Mother-of-three Sharon Honeywill raced home from Hornby, in Christchurch, when she first heard about the Shands Road fire.

After negotiating four cordons, set up to keep people away from the escalating situation, she got as close as her neighbour's property but wasn't allowed any nearer.

The paddock behind her lifestyle block was ablaze, and gusting winds were kicking up smoke and flames.

"I felt pretty defenseless," Mrs Honeywill said.

"I was looking at my house, wanting to go and save anything personal, but when you've got your family there to think about, you could only sit there and watch the paddocks burning."

She described wild scenes of helicopters with monsoon buckets flying around, livestock and a neighbour's horse "running free".

"We knew where the fire had started in some sort of gravel pit on Selwyn Rd, but could see other fires that had started as well.

"It was quite worrying, but luckily there was no-one at home when it started," Mrs Honeywill said.

She was unsure if her house survived the fire, and fears the worst for her neighbour Clive Hartley.

"It's pretty much a gonner by the sounds of it. We're pretty worried about them."

When she spoke to APNZ from a friend's house in nearby Lincoln, she was unsure where her and her three kids - Brook, 9, TJ, 8, and six-year-old Ford - would stay tonight.

Mrs Honeywill had contacted her insurers who told her they would not cover accommodation expenses because her house was "probably habitable".

She good-naturedly cursed her husband, Jim, who is away working in Otago.

"He's missed every major earthquake we've had, and now he's missed the fire. He's on his way home now and is going to get a rark up when he gets here I reckon."

The wind fanning the Prebbleton fire was blowing towards Lincoln, four kilometres away, but Lincoln residents appeared to be remaining calm.

The local pub was busy and plenty of vehicles were parked or being driven along the main street.

However, people were remaining vigilant in case the blaze continued to move across the parched, open paddocks towards the town.

A number of firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation in the Prebbleton fire that started in Shands Road, TV3 reported.

It was almost 30C in Christchurch today, and combined with the nor-wester, incident controller Chris Hewitt described fire conditions as atrocious.

Earlier in the afternoon a single engine managed to get a small fire off Lunns Road in Middleton under control.

Christchurch firefighters also battled a suspicious blaze at a Christchurch primary school today.

Emergency services were called to Beckenham School on Sandwich Road just before midday.

A classroom and library block were well alight by the time fire crews arrived, shift manager Andrew Norris of southern fire communications said.

ODT/directory - Local Businesses

CompanyLocationBusiness Type
The Bunker RestaurantQueenstownRestaurants
Webb Farry LawyersDunedinLawyers
Whitestone VistaliteOamaruSpecialist Trades
Barlow Justice LtdDunedinProperty Valuers