Fire crews contain blaze, evacuated residents return home

Firefighters battling several blazes in Canterbury, including one near Lyttelton, were hampered by strong winds on Tuesday.

As a precaution, about 20 properties were evacuated as Fire and Emergency crews battled the blaze near Cass Bay, above Lyttelton. The residents will be allowed back home at about 5pm.

A Fire and Emergency NZ spokesperson said the wind was fanning the fire and made it difficult to combat. Three helicopters with monsoon buckets and four ground crews spent the afternoon working to contain the fire, which spread to nearby plantations.

"Firefighters continue to work on containment lines. Fire and Emergency asks people to stay away from the area and to keep their doors and windows shut, especially those particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoke," the spokesperson said.

The Cass Bay fire. Photo: Supplied
The Cass Bay fire. Photo: Supplied
No houses were under threat from the Cass Bay blaze, which has so far burnt through 15ha of land. However, properties were evacuated along the Corsair Bay flank of the fire.

Lyttelton-Governors Bay Rd (Park Tce), from Corsair through to Rapaki is closed. It is expected to re-open tonight. The road closure is to enable aerial firefighting operations.

The fire has been surrounded and firefighters are currently working to put containment lines around it.

It is one of four fires in Canterbury. A tussock fire broke out at Marine Pde in New Brighton; trees caught alight in a paddock in Loburn and a median strip was on fire near Christchurch Airport in Harewood.

The spokesperson said some of these incidents were due to windy conditions. There has also been three incidents of trees coming down in Christchurch.

Cass Bay. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Cass Bay. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Fire and Emergency NZ principal rural fire officer Bruce Janes said the wind has been gusting up to 130km/h throughout the day and is expected to last until tomorrow morning.

Metservice has issued a strong wind warning for the Canterbury High Country, with northwest gales set to rip down the centre of the South Island but strong gusts are howling through the city.

"Since the gusts got up earlier today, crews across the region have been chasing fires and attended multiple callouts right across the region."

Photo: Facebook
Photo: Facebook

Heavy rain warnings are also in force for Canterbury lakes and rivers.

Metservice forecaster Mmathapelo Makgabutlane said 80km/h wind was recorded at Christchurch Airport this afternoon.

More exposed areas near Banks Peninsula saw gusts reaching 93km/h this morning, she said.

Photo: Facebook
Photo: Facebook
About 1400 Cantabrians were without power on Tuesday due to the wind.  An Orion spokeswoman said it had managed to restore most of the homes.

Canterbury is currently in a restricted fire season, where any open-air fire needs a permit. However, with the strong winds expected to last for another 12 to 18 hours, Fire and Emergency asks anyone with a fire permit to hold off burning until conditions ease.

Janes wants anyone who has had a recent fire to check that it is completely out.

"With winds as strong as what we are experiencing, hot ashes can easily get picked up, potentially starting a new fire."

"We want to reduce the risks as much as possible, that’s why it is very important to check previous burns."

The large fire at Cass Bay. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The large fire at Cass Bay. Photo: Geoff Sloan

"Over haul the area of the burn, pour water over it and check with the back of your hand that there is no heat," Janes said.

Fire and Emergency NZ is also encouraging Cantabrians to think twice about using braziers, gas cookers or carrying out farming activities that could cause an ignition.

"While the winds are up and the fire dangers are high, it is more likely these activities could start a fire," Janes said.

Find fire safety advice and information on fire season statuses at checkitsalright.nz.

- Matt Slaughter and NZ Herald

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