SH1 in North Canterbury reopens after large vegetation fire

12:48 pm on 7 February 2024
Evidence of a scrub fire on farmland next to SH1 before the Waipara River Bridge.

Evidence of a scrub fire on farmland next to SH1 before the Waipara River Bridge. Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

State Highway 1 has reopened in North Canterbury after a large vegetation fire on Tuesday night.

The fire has burnt through 5ha of land on both sides of the highway near Waipara, close enough for some power poles to catch alight.

A woman who drove through a section of the highway at the time of the fire said she thought she could have died.

Constance Kipa said she was likely one of the last to drive through before the road was blocked off.

"As soon as we sort of came into it, the car got really, really hot and I wasn't expecting that, and then the smoke came across the front and you couldn't see."

A Fire and Emergency (FENZ) spokesperson said the fire was still contained to that size and was under control.

The smoke had calmed down and not a lot of hotspots remained visible, he said.

Mainpower said 12 properties were without electricity because FENZ asked for it to be turned off for the safety of crews.

Residents who voluntarily left their homes on Darnley Road have been allowed to return.

'Within 10 seconds it went across the road'

One Waipara resident said he was relieved to find his property unaffected after the fire got dangerously close to his house on Tuesday night, forcing him to evacuate.

The resident, who did not want to be named, said he had just finished watching the Waitangi Day cricket when he noticed smoke coming from the highway.

"Kane Williamson just brought up his second hundred in the second innings and I was having a few beers, I thought this is great but I thought I better go do something and as I walked out on the porch ... I could just see smoke and when you see smoke at this time of year, it isn't good at all.

"I just started running down the driveway. By the time I got there, I could see the flames coming up over the hill, and within 10 seconds, it went across the road into the pines, and it went so fast, it was pretty spooky."

With flames racing toward his driveway, he said they were told to leave.

The man had a sleepless night away from home and was relieved to return to find his property unharmed, but he said the fire got close enough to singe the exterior of his neighbour's house.

"The flames were over the top of the house and the hedge line, the way the wind was pushing it from the north west, it wasn't something you wanted to see. I've witnessed fire before but when it is sporadic and you know how dry it is, you are powerless, there is nothing you can do."

He said residents were lucky the fire service responded so quickly and no properties or lives were lost.

This is the second large scrub fire in Canterbury in the past week, just days after the fire at Kirwee.

Evidence of a scrub fire on farmland next to SH1 before the Waipara River Bridge.

Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

FENZ assistant commander David Berry told Morning Report conditions were worse than they have been in the past few years.

A couple of small burn fires people had lit recently had reignited in the wind, he said.

"We've also seen a quad bike had an exhaust malfunction and that's caused a fire in a paddock."

People need to be a bit more sensible and take care, Berry said.

This included not parking on grass with a hot exhaust.