Canterbury remains on fire alert

Canterbury firefighters were on high alert and preparing for the worst again last night after another frantic day battling scrub fires in the tinder-dry region.

A spate of fires in 24 hours, including a blaze south of Christchurch which razed three homes, was followed yesterday afternoon by a large blaze at West Melton.

It started on dry farmland near the Waimakariri River and quickly spread to 100 hectares, threatening a large pine plantation.

About 300 people at a sidecar motorcycle racing event at Moorepark Speedway were evacuated, along with some local leaseholders and sheep stock downwind of the fire.

"We hit it hard, and we hit it fast," said Fire Service acting area commander Dave Berry.

At its height, the fire's front spread across 100 metres, and smoke could be seen from Christchurch city.

Nine tankers, six fire trucks, and three helicopters using monsoon buckets soon had the latest blaze under control. The farmers have since been allowed to go home, while Mr Berry expected the motorcycle enthusiasts - who had retreated to the nearby Yaldhurst Hotel - to return to their track event.

Last evening, rural fire crews were still working to contain the fire, with three fire trucks and 10 tankers at their disposal.

"They believe the fire is contained and winding down," Southern Fire communications shift manager Andrew Norris said. Fire experts are investigating how it started.

Firefighters were also busy last night tackling a plantation fire at Gore Bay in North Canterbury.

Mr Norris said two pumps and four tankers, including units from Cheviot, were battling the blaze.

Another scrub fire near Christchurch International Airport yesterday was put out.

Mr Berry praised the quick work of his firefighters, some of whom had fought Thursday's blaze.

The Fire Service would "definitely" remain on high alert over the weekend, which forecasters say will continue to be hot, dry and windy.

Mr Berry reminded the public of a total fire ban and to take care.

"It is dry, and yesterday proved just how quickly a fire can travel. Today we were just lucky there was little wind."

There have been more than 20 fires in Canterbury in the last 24 hours but, with call-outs to flare-ups continuing, it was difficult to say exactly how many there have been or how many firefighting units had been deployed.

Thursday's scrub fire between Rolleston and Prebbleton, which destroyed three homes, continued to flare up yesterday evening.

Mr Norris said it would occupy firefighters overnight.

"We've got crews constantly going around that area, checking all the reported hot-spots and flare-ups and things like that.

"That looks like it's going to be an ongoing issue for the next 12 hours at least."

Foul play has not been ruled out as the cause of Thursday's fire, which leapt across two roads as it advanced across 150 hectares of land. Helicopters with monsoon buckets and up to 150 volunteer and professional firefighters battled the blaze.

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