Fires around South Island caused by fireworks, including massive Lake Hawea blaze

2019-04-08 06:45:25

A massive forest fire that came within metres of people's homes was caused by fireworks.

Crews used a helicopter to battle the blaze at Lake Hawea, near Wanaka, from about 5.30pm on Friday. Homes were evacuated and personnel from four brigades remained on site on Saturday morning to contain spot fires.

Fire and Emergency NZ spokesman Daryl Ball said fireworks had been determined as the cause of the blaze, and the investigation handed over to police.

Throughout Saturday, firefighters battled between seven and 10 fires caused by fireworks across the South Island.

Emergency services were called to a "large" fire on the Pleasant Point Highway (State Highway 8) at the Phar Lap Raceway near Timaru about 8.20pm, Ball said. That too had been started by fireworks. By 11pm the fire was completely extinguished.

A police spokeswoman said officers had been called in to assist with traffic management in the area.

In Christchurch, a 10-by-10-metre scrub fire in Humphreys Dr, Ferrymead, was caused by fireworks about 9pm. Crews were working to extinguish the blaze.

Fireworks went on sale across the country on Friday. The police spokeswoman said she had no other records of fires caused by fireworks.

Jimmy Cotter's family was among those evacuated from the Lake Hawea blaze.

Cotter, a member of the Lake Hawea Brigade, praised the work of crews to save the homes. He spent the evening with fellow fire-fighters battling to contain the fire on the ground.

"We really can't thank those brave pilots enough."

Cotter said he was still a bit nervous as it was still very windy.

"We'd love a bit of rain for a bit of peace."

He was incredibly thankful no lives had been lost.

The builder said he and his wife Rebecca had spent years building their earth house and were grateful it had survived the fire.

"But the main thing is that everyone's can be rebuilt but lives can't be."

Brigade chief Brent Arthur said the fire came within 10 metres of one home and the owners were sure they would lose it.

With only one access road in and out, it was deemed too unsafe to send fire trucks up to the homes as they would easily get trapped.

Property owners were contacted by phone and advised to evacuate immediately.

Arthur called in helicopter crews at about 5.30pm on Friday. From the road it appeared the fire may have already reached the homes but when the site was surveyed from a helicopter he saw there was still a chance to save them.

With only about three more hours of daylight left both ground and helicopter crews worked together to contain the blaze.

Fire fighters worked their way up to the homes from the highway while five helicopters flew in a circuit between the fire site and the Lake, delivering targeted dumps of water.

The efforts worked to douse the flames and save the homes. The crews then turned their attention to stopping the fire spreading up the hillside and into the dense canopy vegetation of the fast burning pine and Kanuka trees.

A crew from Dunstan stayed from about midnight working to contain spot fires in steep and windy conditions.

On Saturday morning, 13 fire fighters from four brigades were working with hoses and hand tools to mop up and contain spot fires across about 5ha of forest on the slopes of Mount Maude to the south-west of Lake Hawea township.

Rebecca Cotter was in her neighbour's house when her husband called and told her and their children to leave. She did not have a chance to go home before they did.

"We were just told to get off the mountain of course because it was spreading quite rapidly . . . everyone was taken off and they were all accounted for."

She said the event was "pretty scary".

"We live in a forest, we've always talked about if there's a fire we need to get out very quickly because we knew it would spread."

SH6 from Wanaka to Makarora was closed at the intersection with Capell Ave in the Lake Hawea township. New Zealand Transport Agency was warning motorists to avoid the area if possible.

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