Firefighters at vegetation fire in North Canterbury

12:44 am on 19 February 2024
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Fire crews are battling an uncontrolled wild fire in difficult terrain north of Weka Pass in North Canterbury's Hurunui district. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Residents have been evacuated North Canterbury as firefighters battle a vegetation fire that broke out in Waikari Valley, near Waipara.

The alarm was raised just after 8pm on Sunday, Fire and Emergency said, and comes as the area faces an orange strong wind warning for the Canterbury high country from 5am Monday - with the zone just brushing the Waikari area.

Flames were "moving through gorse and scrub" in the valley, but there was no current threat to any structures, FENZ said in a bulletin late on Sunday night.

However, residents from Glenmark Drive, Sealeys Direct Road and Shell Rock Road were being evacuated as a precaution, and an evacuation centre had been opened at Waipara Hall.

Police said anyone in the area who had not already been formally evacuated should consider self-evacuating. They asked those who evacuated to register with the evacuation centre at Waipara Hall, even if they were not staying there.

A screengrab from a video shot at the Waikari Valley fire on Sunday night.

A screengrab from a video shot at the Waikari Valley fire on Sunday night. Photo: Supplied/ Screengrab

Anyone in the area should follow the directions of local emergency services, police said.

There were 15 fire crews and a bulldozer at work at the scene late on Sunday night and efforts to control the blaze would continue through the night, but efforts were being complicated by difficult terrain.

Five helicopters were on standby, and could begin work at first light on Monday.

Hurunui District Council said the North Canterbury uncontrolled wild fire was north of Weka Pass.

People were asked to avoid the area.

HUHANZ (Helping You Help Animals) offered a stock trailer and portable yards to those affected, but said MPI advice advice on evacuating livestock and animals here should be the first port of call. Residents were also posting offers of help on local Facebook pages, including loans of horse floats and paddock space, and crates for pets.

The fire fighting efforts were putting more pressure on the region's already stretched emergency response resources as fire crews from throughout the region also continue a five-day effort against a huge fire that has burned large swathes of Christchurch's Port Hills.

Most of the South Island is currently under fire restrictions, and the dry conditions meant some areas within the Hurunui District Council zone were already under level 4 water restrictions.

In January, FENZ warned the region was tinder dry, the fire risk was the worst it had been in years, and an incident control team was set up in South Canterbury as a pre-emptive measure.

But a cluster of wildfires have already caused destruction this year, including houses and a church destroyed in Loburn, and a number of homes threatened by a long series of fires along a railway line between Aylesbury and Darfield, west of Christchurch.

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