13 Feb 2017

Houses destroyed as large fires blaze across Hawke's Bay

10:43 pm on 13 February 2017

Four of the five fires that hit rural Hawke's Bay today are under control.

Two houses were destroyed and more than 50 people evacuated today, as the worst of the fires blazed through about 500 hectares of dry grass and pasture west of Waimarama Beach.

The fire on Waimarama Road, above the Tukituki River, prompted a civil defence emergency to be declared today.

Hastings scrub fire

Hastings scrub fire Photo: John Wuts

About 700 properties were without power and more than 100 cars and two busloads of children have been evacuated out of Waimarama.

Hastings District Council said it was expecting the wind to change direction tomorrow morning, which could fan smouldering embers and push the fire into a new direction.

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence earlier evacuated 30 people from 23 properties on Waimarama Road.

At least one house has been destroyed.

The district council said all the evacuees were staying with friends or relatives.

Occupants of about 23 homes on the Waimarama side of the fire who were evacuated earlier in the day were being allowed to return to their homes, as the road into Waimarama was reopened.

The council says Craggy Range is now closed from the corner of Tukituki and Craggy Range Roads until further notice.

Power is still off to the area, which includes Ocean Beach, Maraetotara and Waimamara.

However a generator is on its way to backup the water supply pumping systems.

Crews were also battling another scrub fire in Colin White Road, near Te Hauke and a third one near Riepia Stream, north-east of Puketitiri.

If you witnessed the fire and would like to share pictures or video with us, please email them to: iwitness@radionz.co.nz

The Fire Service said more than 20 trucks and 120 firefighters, as well as helicopters, were fighting the biggest fire, which was about 1.5 kilometres in length.

The Hastings District Council announced the civil defence emergency. It said the only road into Waimarama was closed and it was talking with schools about children who needed to travel out of the area.

The Fire Service first received note of the fire about 10.30am today. It asked power provider Unison to switch off power to properties.

It was not known when the power could be safely switched on again, as strong winds in the area were fanning the flames.

Hastings District Council posted on Facebook that rural and urban firefighters were battling the fire.

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Photo: Twitter / @LilyLivingstone

"Police are contacting those people who need to be evacuated.

"Schools etc are being contacted regarding children needing to get in or out of Waimarama at the end of the day.. We are aware power is out in some areas.

"People driving on the road out to Waimarama: please do not go any further; the road is closed to traffic into the village. Also, please get out of the way quickly if you see fire engines."

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group described the Waimarama Rd blaze as a "wildfire" and said people had been evacuated.

Hastings scrub fire

Hastings scrub fire Photo: John Wuts

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said the region's firefighting resources had been stretched thin and they had brought in extra crews from around the country.

"If we have another fire, or even two small ones... we don't actually have the resources to be able to put it out.

He said 50 firefighters were being brought in from Auckland and Taranaki and a tactical unit was being sent up from Wellington.

Hastings District councillor Bayden Barber said there were two school trips from Hastings at the beach in Waimarama and they had been told to stay there until the road reopened.

The owner of local accommodation provider Tom's Cottages, Van Howard, said he could see the fire, which was encroaching on the Craggy Range forest.

"It looks to me as if it's covering an area, from where we can see, of about 10 hectares, and we understand that two houses have been burned down."

Mr Howard said helicopters were taking water out of the Tukituki river and diggers were needed to create deeper wells in the river for the helicopters' buckets to get more water.

A Welfare Centre has been set up at the Havelock North Function Centre.

Residents of Waimarama and Ocean Beach have been told to conserve water, as the town only about two days' worth of water left.

The Hastings District Council said cell phone coverage in the area may also be lost, because of damage from the fire.