31 Aug 2020

Weather a challenge for Aoraki/Mt Cook fire, say firefighters

7:13 pm on 31 August 2020

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has given an update on the Aoraki/Mt Cook fire which has been blazing for more than a day.

A helicopter drops water on a fire near lake Pukaki. 31 August 2020

A helicopter drops water on the fire near Lake Pukaki. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon

The fire, by Lake Pukaki near Twizel, was reported just before lunchtime yesterday and had burnt through 2000 hectares of forestry and scrub by last night.

Three firefighting teams worked through the night to try to bring the blaze under control and to protect property.

A hunter received minor injuries trying to put out the fire and has been treated.

Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) said an investigator was on the way to look at how the fire started and FENZ was speaking to three people who were in the vicinity.

Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith said 14 helicopters, two planes and at least 50 crew will be battling the blaze today.

Today the fire service confirmed they have 16 helicopters in the air and 70 ground crew.

A fire truck at the scene of the fire near Lake Pukaki in the MacKenzie District.

A fire truck at the scene of the fire near Lake Pukaki. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon

They said the weather was challenging for air crews and there would be a southerly change later in the day. That change could increase the fire's speed by two to four times.

The fire service is hoping to reach 60 percent containment by tonight.

The fire is about 5km from the town of Twizel and about 50km from Mount Cook Village.

At least one property has been burned along with a number of outbuildings.

MetService has issued a strong wind warning for the area; advising warm northwest gales are forecast to be severe at times, with gusts reaching 130km/h.

Twizel resident James Leslie said the fire in the area would have a significant affect on local biodiversity.

Leslie said the tussock was burning quickly in the strong North west wind.

He said native geckos that lived on the Twizel riverbed, where the fire broke out, would not have survived.

Leslie said livestock have so far been unharmed.

Glenbrook Station owner Simon Williamson could see the fire from his property and said it had burned through a number of wilding pines and up to a firebreak.

The charred ground and trees after a fire at Lake Pukaki in the Mackenzie District. 31 August 2020

Damage caused by the fire. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon

Meanwhile, police said a number of cars were escorted from State Highway 80 (which leads to Mount Cook Village) this morning.

The Hermitage Hotel said it had 97 guests staying on Sunday night - all of whom took the chance to leave today.

"The convoy provided guests with an opportunity to leave safely in a group so the road could remain free should emergency vehicles need access," acting general manager Kylie Hogan said.

Mount Cook resident and Southern Alps guiding owner Mary Hobbs, whose husband Charlie is a volunteer firefighter battling the blaze, said the helicopters were proving their use yet again.

Two helicopters sweep overhead of the fire at Lake Pukaki in the MacKenzie District.

Helicopters tackling the fire. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon

She praised the pilots and firefighters for their bravery.

"They have kept going in the face of a daunting inferno, I mean, it takes a tremendous amount of guts to fly in these conditions with smoke, wind and flames which at times reached 100 metres in height," she said.