8 Mar 2016

Massive blaze near Hanmer Springs under control

8:40 pm on 8 March 2016

Hanmer Springs residents evacuated due to a major fire that's ripped through 90 hectares of scrub have returned to their homes.

Fire on the hill close to the main entrance to Hanmer Springs.

Fire on the hill close to the main entrance to Hanmer Springs. Photo: RNZ/Conan Young

The fire, 10km outside of Hanmer, is now under control. Twenty homes and 28 people were evacuated. Some people spent the day at the town's sports pavilion, before returning to their homes this afternoon.

One of the evacuees said a wall of flame came extremely close to buildings, and it was lucky nobody was hurt.

The fire broke out just before midnight and police ordered residents to leave their homes two hours later, with time only to grab important documents.

Braemar Lodge manager Dominic Towery was told the building would need to be evacuated about 2am.

There was a solid wall of flames close to the lodge, he said.

"It looked really red hot, probably a few metres coming up. We saw a tree or two go up as we were leaving and it was pretty intense."

The fire caused power outages and the closure of the only road in and out of the South Island town this morning, but the Christchurch Transport Operations Centre said the road into Hanmer (SH7A) was now open again.

Power was restored to much of the area earlier today.

Fire Service area commander Dave Berry said there were eight helicopters with monsoon buckets battling the blaze, four protecting houses, and four defending an emergency service repeater station at Wallace Peak.

One of several helicopters being used to fight the Hanmer Springs fire.

One of several helicopters being used to fight the Hanmer Springs fire. Photo: RNZ/Conan Young

Forty firefighters were attending to the blaze, but Mr Berry said Department of Conservation personnel would take over as the fire was on conservation land.

Investigators were looking into the cause of the fire, he said.

Desperate work by fire crews overnight protected several houses threatened by the blaze.

One eyewitness estimated the flames had reached up to 20m high.

To share pictures or video of the fire with us, please email to: iwitness@radionz.co.nz

Hurunui District Council emergency management officer Allan Grigg told Morning Report the fire was "uncontained, uncontrolled, burning throughout the hills".

The fire began near a riverbed just before midnight last night and spread up a hill, fanned by 50km wind gusts overnight.

The terrain was very steep and heavily vegetated, and there had been "extreme fire behavior" overnight, Mr Grigg said.

The fire has burned across a section of hills near Hanmer Springs.

The fire began near a riverbed just before midnight last night. Photo: Facebook / Barbara Burry

Power and road access restored to Hanmer Springs

Power had been restored to most of Hanmer Springs, and the road in and out was now open after contractors cleared burnt trees.

A MainPower spokesperson said the town's electricity went out about 4am but was now back on everywhere except Wallace Peak.

A photo taken after dawn shows blackened trees and scorched earth.

A photo taken after dawn shows blackened trees and scorched earth. Photo: SUPPLIED / Christchurch Transport Operations Centre (CTOC)

Marble Point Winery owner Sheryl Dennis, who lives about 13km from Hanmer Springs, said she noticed the fire about 4am.

"I just got up to go to the toilet ... I saw a glow on the hill, so I got my son up to have a look."

She then phoned a family member in the town, who said his family had been evacuated.

Marble Point Winery owner Sheryl Dennis, who lives about 13km from Hanmer Springs, said she noticed the fire about 4am.

Marble Point Winery owner Sheryl Dennis, who lives about 13km from Hanmer Springs, said she noticed the fire about 4am. Photo: Sheryl Dennis

Truck driver Pierre Vermunt drove past the fire on his way from Christchurch to Springs Junction about 4.30am.

"The flames are pretty high ... quite high above the trees, probably getting up to about 20m high. Where the fire had been, there were embers and there was a line of flame moving across the hillside."

Fire Service Area Commander Dave Berry asked residents to stay away from the area and to be patient.

The police said the evacuations had happened in the area around Medway Road and State Highway 7A near the Hanmer River.

The Hurunui District Council said it asked residents to try to conserve water, as the system was running on back-up generators.

The fire has forced evacuations in the area around Medway Road and State Highway 7A.

Photo: SUPPLIED / Pierre Vermunt

A massive fire near Hanmer Springs.

Photo: SUPPLIED/Reece Gardner