5 Jan 2015

Residents were on evacuation standby

5:32 am on 5 January 2015

Residents in the South Canterbury town of Twizel were on standby to be evacuated yesterday evening as a large grass fire moved towards the township.

The fire, which was brought under control shortly after 7pm, was believed to have been caused by a spark from a welding machine.

The fire was first reported a few kilometres west of Twizel shortly after 5pm, before a sharp wind change at 6pm turned it towards the township.

Three helicopters dropping buckets of water, fire engines and tankers battled to contain the fire, which was estimated to cover an area of 3 square kilometres.

AUT lecturer Richard Pamatatau, who was visiting friends in the town, said people he had spoken to were more excited than scared.

"We heard the fire siren going off, we heard the fire engine racing down the road, we saw an enormous plume of smoke going into the sky about a couple of kilometres from where the house is here on the nor-west arch," he said.

"At that point we thought to ourselves, 'Well, we do need to be mindful of what's happening, it is incredibly dry."

Residents were readied to evacuate by the fire service, but none were.

The fire was finally extinguished after 9pm.

Mackenzie District mayor Claire Barlow said officers told her they thought the fire was caused by a spark from a welding machine.

She said people in the district should be cautious, with temperatures peaking in the mid-30s.

"It looks like it started - it was a grass fire of some description which may have been ignited by a spark from a welding unit," she said.

"I have to say this has been the driest summer since I've been in this role. This is a very dry, hot summer. It's like the summers of old but it probably caught people unawares."

The rural fire authority said its investigators were at the fire's source overnight to determine if it was caused by a welding machine.