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Police speaking to two ‘persons of interest’ in relation to possible cause fire

Author
NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Nov 2022, 7:16am

Police speaking to two ‘persons of interest’ in relation to possible cause fire

Author
NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Nov 2022, 7:16am

Police are speaking to two “persons of interest” over the possible cause of a large beach fire that has covered about 200ha north of Christchurch.

The blaze at Pegasus Beach continued to burn overnight and has covered an estimated 200ha. Incident Controller Colin Russell said three helicopters and fresh crews mustered at first light.

On Thursday morning fire evacuees from Woodend camping ground gathered for a public meeting.

Canterbury Police rural area commander Inspector Peter Cooper confirmed to the gathering that they are talking to two “persons of interest” over the possible start of the fire.

The fire came very close to the camping ground but volunteers managed to keep it out and no reports of property damage have been reported. It’s hoped the evacuees can get home tonight. Another meeting will be held at 2pm.

Weather forecasts are predicted to be similar for this afternoon which will let fire crews continue their work, said Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s Wayne Hamilton. One member of the public asked why they couldn’t decide on returning now instead of 2pm. FENZ said the fire is still “very active” and they want to make sure it’s a safe area for them to return to. The evacuation centre will remain open into the evening.

Incident Controller Colin Russell spoke to media at 7.30am on Thursday, along with Waimakariri District mayor Dan Gordon, from the Woodend Fire Station. He said the main focus has been evacuation.

Light poking through the trees in Pegasus, Canterbury as the fire rages. Photo / Supplied

Light poking through the trees in Pegasus, Canterbury as the fire rages. Photo / Supplied

All have been “successfully evacuated, all safely” and there are no reports of property damage, he said.

Evacuees are in “good hearts” and grateful to Fire and Emergency, said Gordon.

Russell said it was too early to say what sparked the massive blaze but investigations were underway. Questions were asked whether the fire could be linked to ongoing Guy Fawkes celebrations, but Russell wouldn’t be drawn into speculating.

His preference, he said, would be for the public to refrain from setting off their own fireworks but simply attend safely managed public events.

FENZ has now established an investigation team with police, a scene guard is at the site where the incident was first reported.

Incident controller Colin Russell (left) and Waimakariri District mayor Dan Gordon at Woodend Fire Station this morning. Photo / George Heard

Incident controller Colin Russell (left) and Waimakariri District mayor Dan Gordon at Woodend Fire Station this morning. Photo / George Heard

The fire first sparked around 7.30pm on Wednesday night. Roughly 50 firefighters and 12 fire trucks have been on the scene since.

The fire has spread over 5km, Russell said, with flames reaching as high as 6 metres last night. The fire reached the boundary line of the Woodend Beach campground.

130 people have been evacuated from their homes. Gordon said around 50 evacuees sheltered at the community centre overnight but were in good spirits.

Heavy machinery including two huge bulldozers managed to plough a 30m-wide fire break last night to try to contain the blaze.

While the wind is light now, forecasted gusts have firefighters on the ground concerned. The aerial attack will focus on hot-spots and contain the worst areas.

The fire was raging north of Christchurch. Photo / Facebook, Pegasus community group page

The fire was raging north of Christchurch. Photo / Facebook, Pegasus community group page

The smell of smoke has blanketed Christchurch as the fire near Woodend Beach burns out of control. Photo / George Heard

The smell of smoke has blanketed Christchurch as the fire near Woodend Beach burns out of control. Photo / George Heard

Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) Incident Controller Colin Russell said winds had dropped on the fireground in the last couple of hours, and crews had worked hard on the western flank of the fire to contain it overnight.

Firefighters have also been carrying out structure protection at the camping ground and tackling spot fires.

Heavy machinery had been used to create a firebreak on Pipeline Road, which runs off Ferry Road and the Pines Beach end.

“To the best of our knowledge we have not lost any homes or property but it’s hard to get a complete picture during the night. We will be making an aerial reconnaissance at first light and we will get a better idea of the extent of the fire then,” Russell said.

A second community meeting will be held for evacuees and residents in the vicinity of the fire at 10am in the Woodend Community Centre, which has also been set up as a welfare hub by Civil Defence.

Campers rush to leave the Woodend Beach Holiday Park. Photo / Hamish Clark

Campers rush to leave the Woodend Beach Holiday Park. Photo / Hamish Clark

Last night the Waimakariri Civil Defence and police assisted FENZ to evacuate about 130 people to the Woodend Community Centre.

Racehorses were also being evacuated from Woodend Beach.

New Zealand Response Teams team leader Jonathan Williams said there were about 40 people at the evacuation centre in Woodend.

Most of the people were from the holiday camp, but many people were also self-evacuating he said.

Heavy machinery was brought in an attempt to establish fire breaks. Photo / Hamish ClarkHeavy machinery was brought in an attempt to establish fire breaks. Photo / Hamish Clark

Digger contractor Gary Johnson told the Herald: “They wanted to push in a fire break but it’s moving too fast, so they’re going to get us to move heavier stuff ... and try to push in a fire break.

“It’s just opening up a big area so the fire doesn’t jump it. We are going to be here all night.”

Firefighters have been on the scene since 7.30pm on Wednesday night.

People are evacuating the Woodend Beach Holiday Park. Photo / Sam Sherwood

People are evacuating the Woodend Beach Holiday Park. Photo / Sam Sherwood

New Zealand Response Teams team leader Jonathan Williams said Wednesday night there were about 40 people at the evacuation centre in Woodend.

Most of the people were from the holiday camp, but many people were also self-evacuating he said.

”At the moment it’s just a waiting game to see what’s going to happen. Council and FENZ will ascertain if they will stay the night or find alternate accommodation. At least it’s a destination for people and to come and get reassurance.”

The fire is still actively burning and high winds are causing it to travel quickly south towards Woodend Beach.

Heavy machinery was being brought in an attempt to establish fire breaks between the fire and Woodend, a spokesperson said.

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