Evacuated families heading home after wildfires destroy buildings in Waitaki, Otago

Families who self-evacuated their houses after multiple wildfires broke out in rural areas of Otago's Waitaki District are now heading back home.

Two out of three families who evacuated are now back home, Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) district manager and Otago commander Phil Marsh told Newshub.

However, while their main properties are safe, Marsh said three farm shed or outhouse buildings had been destroyed.

Damage following two wildfires in rural Otago.
Damage following two wildfires in rural Otago. Photo credit: Newshub

Marsh said windy conditions added challenge but the two fires - about 78 hectares - were now contained. About 100 firefighters, including crew who came as far as Timaru, have been working to bring the fires under control.

"We're still extinguishing a lot of hotspots and blackening out around the perimeter of the fires and working our way in to make sure that we don't get reignition," he added.

Helicopters with monsoon buckets arrived Monday morning to help control the fires, which were reported not long after midnight, an earlier statement from FENZ said.  

Smoke could be seen as far as Oamaru.  

The first fire was in Nenthorn, about 30km from Middlemarch, and the second fire was burning in the Earthquakes area, about 7km from Duntroon.   

Fire and Emergency incident controller Bobby Lamont said crews at Nenthorn had been working on three separate fires in windy conditions.   

Three helicopters, three tankers and five additional crews of firefighters were brought in at first light on Monday morning.   

A helicopter at the scene.
A helicopter at the scene. Photo credit: Newshub

Earlier, Lamont said three households had self-evacuated and urged anyone else in the area who feels uneasy or unsafe to also leave.  

Nenthorne, Ramrock and Butter and Egg Roads were all closed.  

A helicopter at the scene.
A helicopter at the scene. Photo credit: Newshub

Helicopters and heavy machinery were seen working on the fire throughout Monday morning.  

FENZ said the smoke from the fire, which is noticeable in Oamaru, prompted several 111 calls.  

Those who see or smell smoke were asked to call for assistance so trained dispatchers can assess whether it is a new fire.  

Firefighters are battling the blaze.
Firefighters are battling the blaze. Photo credit: Newshub