10 Jan 2013

Homes destroyed in Canterbury blaze

10:37 pm on 10 January 2013

At least five properties have been destroyed in a large grass fire near the Canterbury town of Prebbleton.

The blaze began in a quarry in an industrial area about 3pm on Thursday and reached its peak late in the afternoon, destroying at least four houses and a chicken farm and prompting the evacuation of all residents from the area.

The fire was fanned by strong north-westerly winds

The fire was fanned by strong north-westerly winds. Photo: RNZ

Fire-fighting resources from the entire region were called in, stretching resources. At its height, at least 20 vehicles were used to fight the fire and a no-fly zone was put in place. Five helicopters with monsoon buckets were also brought in.

Incident commander Chris Hewitt says crews will work overnight on Thursday to douse hotspots.

"Then it's a matter of ensuring that the wind doesn't cause any flare-ups. We've got lots of different types of fuel here - grass, hedge and solid structures - so we need to have different plans for each of those."

A large cordon remains in place and a welfare centre has been set up at the Lincoln Events Centre for those who can't return home on Thursday night.

A fire officer from the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Service, who was the first on the scene, described the terrifying scenes his crew came across.

"Incredible, really. Paddocks were on fire, there were hedgerows on fire and houses were being threatened. It was very intense for quite some time - there was a massive row of hay bales that went up and then we were trying to protect houses.

"At one stage, we had to ditch all our gear and run because the trees exploded in flames and we were out of there."

The Fire Service says crews will be on site for the next 24 hours from Thursday night to make sure the blaze is completely out.

Selwyn District mayor Kelvin Coe says while some properties have been severely damaged, everyone is safe.

Firefighters take a break on Thursday.

Firefighters take a break on Thursday. Photo: RNZ