4 Feb 2019

Fires fan out across the South Island

9:26 pm on 4 February 2019

A series of fires fanned out across the South Island this evening, including one in Christchurch that shut State Highway 1 for a while.

A number of fires next to State Highway 1 south of Christchurch have resulted in the road being closed

A number of fires next to State Highway 1 south of Christchurch have resulted in the road being closed. Photo: Supplied

SH1 out of Christchurch reopened after a hot northwesterly wind blew smoke from several fires around the area, reducing visibility.

Drivers were asked to avoid the Templeton area and take a different route.

The Transport Agency said traffic backed up significantly on the detour routes at Shands Road and Marshs Road.

Fire and Emergency's North Mid Canterbury manager Mike Johns said just after 5pm, crews were "on top of" spot fires at the scene.

There were about five spot fires along a 2km stretch next to a railway track and the southbound lane of SH1.

Fire and Emergency said people called 111 shortly after a train passed through at about 3.30pm to report the fires.

"We're just in the dampening down stage, we've been lucky. We've had the assistance of a lot of tankers that were on scene at the road works just down the road, so they helped greatly along with the six appliances we've had here," he said.

Mr Johns said he expected the crews would be finished at the scene within a "couple of hours".

The fires did not threaten any property, but caused thick smoke to drift across the highway, which was closed for about two hours.

Fire risk management officer Wayne Hamilton said KiwiRrail and Fire and Emergency were investigating.

He said the two organisations were working together to prevent fires near train tracks and this afternoon's event was unusual.

Meanwhile, two helicopters were battling another large fire in Canterbury, near the township of Omarama, which began shortly after midday.

The fire destroyed a barn before spreading to a stack of hay bales.

However, the choppers were held up due to reports of a drone being flown in the area.

Fire and Emergency's spokesperson Michael Harrison said a firefighter spotted a drone shortly before two helicopters with monsoon buckets were due to join the firefighting effort.

Police searched the area and cleared the helicopters for takeoff after they were unable to find the drone.

Mr Harrison said further investigation into the drone incident was unlikely, but he would encourage drone users to keep clear in the event of a fire.

The blaze largely is under control but five crews remain at the scene, with diggers opening up the smouldering hay stack, so it can be dampened down.

In Marlborough, four helicopters and multiple fire crews are at the scene of a scrub fire.

A Fire and Emergency spokesperson said crews were called to Waihopai Valley, southwest of Blenheim, at about 5.30pm.

Strong winds are blowing through the valley and Blenheim residents have decribed seeing thick smoke.