Region battered by fierce winds

Strong northwest winds are creating problems in Otago today, felling power lines, fanning a large scrub fire and prompting warnings for motorists.

The winds, which were forecast to tear through the region at speeds up to 130kmh, are helping spread a large scrub fire above Fruitlands on the Old Man range south of Alexandra.

The fire broke out about midday today and is burning on two fronts, estimated at 1.5km long, about 600m above State Highway 8 between Alexandra and Roxburgh.

One front is burning south along the mountain and the other uphill towards the snow line.

Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk, of Alexandra, said the strong winds meant the fire front was travelling rapidly.

''At this stage we do not believe that there are any houses in danger but that could change rapidly and we are assessing the situation.''

The cause is not known.

In the Queenstown area, Glenorchy Rd was blocked late this afternoon at Wilsons Bay by multiple fallen trees. The road reopened about 7pm.

Earlier, the council recommend that people steer clear of "heavily treed" areas such as Queenstown Hill, where a tree has come down, due to high winds.

Three power lines were brought down at Queenstown Hill this morning. They are believed to have been taken out when a tree fell in the winds this morning.

The Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade was called to the site just after 11.10am.

A spokesman said the high voltage lines were the main lines into Queenstown.

Both Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski areas were closed today due to the high winds - gusting up to 140kmh at the Remarkables and over 100kmh at Coronet Peak.

They are expected to reopen tomorrow.

This morning two inbound flights - one from Air New Zealand and one from Virgin were diverted to Christchurch Airport due to gusting crosswinds, causing the cancellation of two outbound flights from Queenstown Airport.

Meanwhile, motorists travelling in the region have been urged to take care in the strong winds.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has cautions in place for several roads, including Dunedin's Northern Motorway; State Highway 85 - Alexandra-Palmerston; and SH87 - Kyeburn-Middlemarch.

The news doesn't get much better for the weekend, as a southerly change is predicted to race up the country, bringing periods of heavy rain to many areas.

Heavy falls were expected about the Southern Alps and west of the South Island until tomorrow, and should develop about Mt Taranaki today and the Tararua ranges tomorrow, MetService said this morning.

Heavy rain was expected in Fiordland, Westland south of Otira, and the headwaters of the Otago and Canterbury lakes and rivers, from about Arthur's Pass south.

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