9 Mar 2016

Volunteers helping extinguish Hanmer fire

1:33 pm on 9 March 2016

Firefighters are confident they'll have the Hanmer Springs blaze fully extinguished by the end of the day.

The fire blazes on the hill behind the fire service's command centre outside Hanmer.

The fire blazes on the hill behind the fire service's command centre outside Hanmer on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ/Conan Young

Firefighters are in a race against the clock to dampen down hotspots remaining from yesterday's big blaze near Hanmer Springs before stronger winds arrive about midday - and possible galeforce winds tomorrow.

Crews have spent a relatively quiet night monitoring the fire, which is now contained and smouldering over 80 hectares of dry scrub and pine forest.

At the peak of the fire early yesterday morning, 28 people had to leave their homes and power was cut to the north Canterbury town.

The fire was largely brought under control by yesterday afternoon with very little damage to property. About 60 volunteers and firefighters were today using shovels to dig out embers as the steep terrain prevented hoses being used.

MetService said winds were expected to get up to 30 to 40 km/h this afternoon and tomorrow would bring galeforce winds.

Department of Conservation fire officer Craig Alexander said, with winds picking up today and a forecast of up to 100 km/h tomorrow, the race was on to make sure the fire was extinguished.

"[With fire], the smoke's only one part of it - you don't know what's happening underground.

"The wind, you can have a small tennis-sized hotspot somewhere that can dislodge a rock or a stump that rolls down a hill and it gets into the unburnt stuff and away you go again."

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

At its peak, the fire cut power to Hanmer Springs, blocked road access and forced 28 people to leave their homes. Photo: SUPPLIED / Pierre Vermunt

About 40 firefighters would head up the hill as soon as there was enough daylight, he said.

"A lot of the fire was through lighter scrubby materials ... and it's flashed up through those, very, very intense.

"It's got into this pine plantation and also some heavy trees above the road. Those who've driven in will know or have seen the trees. So, getting into those and managing the risk."

The road in and out of Hanmer Springs was down to one lane at the moment, he said.

"The fire's caused damage to the road barriers and other things ... There's a rockfall hazard because the fire's gone through and cleared out the vegetation, so rocks are hanging there."

The New Zealand Transport Agency said the road was under stop-go control until further notice, with another update expected at 8am.

Mr Alexander said a thermal camera would be flown over the area on Thursday - the expected "spike" day - to help fire crews on the ground.

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

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

A Hanmer Springs resident whose family was moved to an evacuation centre says the damage to her mother's property from the fire was dramatic.

Sarah Black said the fire came within 100 metres of her mother's boundary and the heat did some serious damage.

"The fire had burnt right up to the vegetable garden, and fence on one side...the water tanks behind the kennel have melted and all the trees - everything is just burnt out."

Some 28 people were evacuated but Ms Black said she was back in her own house last night though still on high alert in case the fire flared up again.

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

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