Large fires tearing through Otago

  • 07/10/2015
(Tyler McDonald / MediaWorks Radio)
(Tyler McDonald / MediaWorks Radio)

A dramatic temperature drop, along with some steady rain has halted vegetation fires in Otago, with one major blaze contained while another is rapidly becoming less threatening.

At least nine houses have been damaged, to unknown extents, during the Saddle Hill fire near Mosgiel today but the blaze is now contained.

A cooler change that prompted temperatures to drop from 29degC to 15degC in just a few minutes also granted firefighters a reprieve.

Six helicopters were initially flying missions in the area, but the fire service has reduced the number to four as the risk drops.

Another 10 fire trucks are also working to put out the flames.

Locals have been evacuated to the Oxford Area School while a welfare centre has also been established.

Meanwhile, near the rural Otago town of Dunback, a fire is still burning out-of-control.

The fire, which was originally 4km long, has been halted by rainfall as well as two helicopters, and the fire service says the situation is "looking up".

There has been no house or structure damage in the area.

Despite the change in conditions, Jamie Cowan of the Otago Rural Fire Authority has been warning residents not to delay leaving their homes if they feel unsafe.

"Right now it is about being as aware as they can be of what is going on around them, follow all the instructions of emergency services and if they are thinking about leaving then they need to not leave it to the last minute.

"What we are seeing right through Otago today is we have very high winds, we are gusting up to 100km/h in places , our humidity is extremely low – it's under 20 percent humidity which means that all our fields are very, very dry and temperatures are in the mid to high 20s. So it is an extreme fire danger day."

For Dunedin residents like Tim Devaney who have family in the immediate area, the fires are a cause of major concern.

"I was doing my best. I got my aunty's house down here and we were worried it [the fire] was going to jump the road.  There's another fire out of Dunedin apparently but we're a bit worried about her house."

Traffic restrictions are in place on State Highway 85.

Gales of up to 140km/h hit parts of the South Island today with temperatures reaching about 27degC.

Fire fighters now face a long night ahead as they try to stop the fire from further damaging the region.

Road closures in place

Canterbury police have closed sections of State Highway 1 between Rakaia River Bridge through to Bankside, while the Fire Service battles to bring a large fire on farmland under control.

Roads are also being temporarily closed in the Ashley Gorge near Oxford where another fire is being brought under control.

Police are trying to keep residents informed of what is happening in their area, and they are requesting locals who don’t live in the area to stay away until notified.

Despite the drop in temperature this evening, strong winds are still causing the fire to move rapidly and the smoke is a major hazard for drivers.

Emergency services are encouraging the public to stay vigilant and report any fires to 111, but there is no immediate threat to safety.

Residents affected can call Canterbury Police District Command Centre for further updates on (03) 3637670

NZN/ 3 News