Firefighters still battling large Wanaka scrub blaze

Author
Andrew McMartin,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Thursday, 4 January 2018, 8:54AM

UPDATE 1.18PM: All eyes are looking to the skies in Wanaka this afternoon, with high temperatures due to return near the scene of a large fire.

Eight helicopters and five fire crews are tackling the hillside fire that has so far burned 200 hectares.

MetService has issued a thunderstorm watch for the area, and temperatures of up to 26 degrees are due by this afternoon.

Principal Rural Fire Officer Graeme Still says the weather will play a significant factor in the firefighting.

He says it's very slow work, and they will be looking to contain the fire within its perimeter.

 

Fire and Emergency spokesperson Michele Poole told Tim Dower three walking tracks in the area have been closed to the public.

"It's looking like it's going to be another scorcher here today. There's going to be some restrictions on public access on local walking tracks just to ensure we keep everybody safe while the fire's being fought."

Helicopters back on the job at first light to fight the Mt Roy fire near Wanaka pic.twitter.com/0SQPNwbBqq

There is an air exclusion zone around the fire, so no private aircraft or drones can fly over the fire ground, to enable the helicopters to work in safety.

A 33-year-old man has been charged with endangering a transport facility after a drone was flown in the area of the fire yesterday afternoon.

He is due to appear in the Queenstown District Court on Monday.

Wanaka crews were alerted to the fire around 3pm yesterday but soon needed back-up from other urban and rural Central Otago units as the flames swept up the mountain.

The fire was visible from Wanaka and at least 100 people drove up Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Rd to get a closer view.

Smoke engulfed the sky for the majority of the afternoon and evening as fire crews battled the blaze.

Initially, residents of nearby houses and holidaymakers at the Top 10 Holiday Park were told to be ready to evacuate.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) Central Otago assistant area manager Steve Jones said the first thing fire crews did was protect those properties so they were no longer in danger.

Jones said the fire had been contained by late afternoon, and all stock had been cleared from the hillside.

He still did not know how the blaze started, but with the area being so dry, coupled with the heat and humidity, the fire just took off.

''We've been fully focused on putting it out, but we will start investigating the cause [today].''

Wanaka has had less than 5mm of rain since December 9, and the temperatures over the last three days have all been over 28 degrees with high winds.

Jones also said the heat combined with the wind played a major role in the size of the fire.

- additional reporting, NZ Herald

 

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