7 Mar 2019

Maniototo fires contained and under control

7:32 pm on 7 March 2019

A fire on the Maniototo Plain in Central Otago, which spread over 300 hecatres, is now under control and contained.

Firefighters are being praised for their "remarkable" efforts controlling the scrub fire.

The fire broke out near the township of Waipiata at about 6pm yesterday, causing the evacuation of about 15 people and the closure of State Highway 87 between Kyeburn and Hyde, and the popular Otago Central rail trail cycling track.

Tourist operators have been organising alternative transport, such as buses, to help cyclists get to their accommodation.

The fire spread to about 300 hectares today before eight helicopters and dozens of fire crews were able to contain it this afternoon.

No homes or livestock were harmed.

Deputy principal rural fire officer Mike Harrison said crews would be at the scene mopping up this evening, with a monitoring crew on site overnight.

Mr Harrison said it had the potential to be a much more significant fire.

He said the community had been great, delivering more food to the fire crews than they know what to do with.

About 10mm of rain was also expected overnight, with some starting to fall already at 5pm.

It's hoped that tourists will be able to continue using the Otago Rail Trail tomorrow.

Evacuated residents were allowed to return home earlier this evening.

Fire crews had worked through the night to protect two buildings threatened by the fire.

There were at least two fires: a major blaze near Waipiata-Kokonga Road which started about 6pm yesterday and a smaller one on Four Mile Road near Hyde.

A lightning strike is believed to have started the fire last night.

MetService warned that if the fire was not contained by late afternoon it would have been more difficult to control.

Meteorologist Peter Little said a strong southerly change was forecast with winds gusting up to 100 km/h at times.

"If the fire isn't contained by late afternoon that's something the fire crews will have to deal with."

Mr Little said rain was expected for the area during the day but may not be more than a few millimetres.

Peter Andrews, who runs Peter's Farm Lodge, which provides accommodation for cyclists on the rail trail, said everyone in the area was feeling very unsettled.

Mr Andrews said buses were being organised to take people who had intended to cycle the trail to their accommodation.

He said the strong wind would be making the fire difficult to control.

"It's probably the worst year it could ever happen in the sense that there's been fantastic [pasture] growth over spring and right throughout the summer. There's a lot of extra feed where the farmers just haven't had the stock to eat that down."

Kokonga Lodge owner Alexis Siemans said it had been a stressful night, with herself and 10 guests evacuated from their accomodation and moved to another bed and breakfast.

She said neighbours have been rallying around each other and providing support, and fortunately the fire had incurred no damage to buildings or people.

But she said everyone is on edge and ready to evacuate again if needed.