4 Nov 2022

Wildfire raises questions for North Canterbury locals on private use of fireworks

7:09 pm on 4 November 2022
Canterbury fire crews have been battling a large scrub fire at Woodend beach. Helicopters and Planes got brought in to help fight the fire. 03 November 2022 New Zealand Herald Photograph by George Heard

A Woodend Beach local said it was a shock seeing the fire approach. Photo: NZME / George Heard

People in North Canterbury's Pegasus Bay are relieved to be home a day after a fast moving scrub and forest fire threatened homes and animals.

But further questions have been raised by locals about the private use of fireworks, after it was concluded by investigators they were the cause of the blaze at Pegasus Beach.

Rex Jefcoatt returned home to his Woodend Beach Holiday Park unit on Thursday night, having been one of the 130 people evacuated 24 hours earlier.

Although relieved to be back home, he described the events of the night before as "harrowing".

"Especially when you see the fire approaching as we did," he said.

"When we left property, we just weren't sure what we were going to find when we came back ... which was a bit of a shock."

Police and Fire and Emergency established fireworks to be the cause of the blaze which burned through 160 hectares of pine forest and scrub along the coast.

Canterbury Rural Area Commander Inspector Peter Cooper said police had spoken to two young people in relation to the incident.

One of the pair had been referred to Youth Aid.

Jefcoatt said this may spark changes on the private use of fireworks.

"The popularity of fireworks is going off a little bit now, especially with so many people with animals who aren't happy," he said.

"I think this might be the straw that broke the camel's back."

The fire made it to within 100m of the Woodend Beach stables of leading harness racing reinsman John Dunn.

Police told Dunn it was now or never for the dozens of horses on his paddock as the blaze approached.

"Animal welfare was massive to us," he said.

"We all love our horses so it was a big priority to get them out straight away."

Dunn said he was "disappointed and frustrated" to hear that fireworks was the cause of the fire.

Helping him through the night and Thursday was fellow horse trainer Matt Purvis, who said fireworks and horses were a bad combination.

"The people who did it, obviously it's a large mistake that they'll have to deal with," he said.

"Dealing with horses all my life, fireworks don't mix with horses, especially on dry and windy nights.

"It's just asking for trouble."

The efforts of the dozens of firefighters who continue to fight the fire have been lauded by many locals.

Melissa Milne served free coffees and beverages to crews at Woodend from the early hours of Thursday.

Fire and Emergency incident controller Dave Berry said the fire was a timely reminder to be careful when letting off fireworks this Guy Fawkes, particularly with high winds forecast across the motu.

Firefighters managed to keep fire contained

More than 50 firefighters were working on the fire today, along with an aircraft and two diggers. They spent the day dousing the 130-hectares of forest that was still smouldering.

Firefighters have kept the fire contained, despite more windy weather.

It could take another three days to extinguish the fire, which had burned through 200 hectares of pine forest and scrub along the coast, they said.

The Tuhaitara Coastal Park is closed and people will not be able to get down to the beach.

The wind is expected to die down this evening and two crews will monitor the fire overnight.

More than 50 firefighters and a helicopter will be back working on hotspots tomorrow.