Residents of Wakefield are ready to leave their homes at a moments notice say ash and pine needles have been falling from the sky for days.
The town's schools, kindergartens and early childhood education centres have been closed as the fire now covering roughly 2000ha has been burning and growing since Tuesday.
Residents on the northern side were asked to keep their mobile phones on overnight, in case an evacuation was ordered by text message.
Often with their treasured belongings already packed up or moved elsewhere, people living in the town have been on notice to leave since Tuesday.
Yvonne Closey lives on the edge of Wakefield closest to the fire, and said she'd never seen it so dry.
"We've been here nearly 20 years. Grew up here ... then we were in Christchurch, but we came back. Never like this - it's really crunchy when you walk on it.
"Falkner's bush, this lovely bush down here just off the main road ... we went in there, there's a lot of them dying. I've never seen so many [shrubs] dying."
She said a lot of helicopters were using the river to refill their buckets.
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"I just think how dangerous it is, because they're going down amongst the bushes to get their bucket in the water.
"They've bulldozed out a big hole so that it fills because there's hardly any water of course."
"I've been watching that but we get out as well so we can get away from it, the smoke gets at you after a while."
She and her husband packed up their belongings last night and moved it to her daughter's house.
"We all got phone alerts last night ... my husband's had stroke so I'm a bit protective of him.
"We said 'at least it gets our stuff packed up, our precious bits', so we did that ... I thought we'd get more sleep."
Ashen skies: 'yesterday it was very thick'
Her daughter Delia Perry said they were taking practical precautions too.
"Taking down shade sails, taking in our furniture beacause large pine needles are floating out of the sky.
"When the wind changes it'll be coming in this direction."
They said ash had been coming down for a few days.
"Yesterday it was very thick and coming straight down," she said.
"There's a river along the bottom of the hill but fires can jump so we do have to be a little bit careful.
"People are checking their gutters making sure there's no leaves on.
"Everything's just so dry."
'If they go up, there's no stopping it'
Geoff Clark lives on the far side of Wakefield, and said he'd never seen a fire like this.
"This is just totally unprecedented, it's just unbelievable.
"It's so dry - the river's dried up, there's no water ... all the grass has grown up and then it's dried off. You take the hill over here, that's all long, dry grass about a metre high.
He said he and his wife were just waiting to hear from civil defence about any evacuation.
"The whole area's covered in pine needles and bracken that's coming down, none of it's live at the moment. If you get one spark that goes up the hill, it's all over.
"We're surrounded by pine trees, if they go up there's just no stopping it.
"I've always thought 'if these trees go up, we're in trouble'."
'Hard to sleep ... I can see the flames on the hill'
Maggie McLean, a teenager who lives right on the edge of the cordon, said she and her family had been on the 'prepare to evacuate' list since the fire started on Tuesday.
"We're just sort of keeping alert and staying ready and staying prepared to evacuate if we need to.
"Last night we spent quite a bit of time going through and taking anything valuable and packing it up into the car.
She said they were staying in the town until ordered to leave because they had animals - a dog, a cat and some cows - to care for.
"We took our grandma who actually lives in Wakefield just because she'd take a while to get out ... got the dog, the dog's been going with mum to work."
"It's a bit hard to sleep, I can look up from my bedroom window and I can see all the flames on the hill, so it's a bit crazy.
"The firefighters are doing an amazing job and this morning they've actually started creating a massive firebreak on the property across the road from us so I think that's quite reassuring really.
"Rain would be really nice, as you can see on the top of the car there's actually so much ash around, and last night dad was wetting the gutters but it's quite a lot of ash this morning."