Incident Controller Colin Russell and Waimakariri District Mayor Dan Gordon on Blaze at Canterbury’s Pegasus Beach. Video / NZ Herald
Police spoke to two young people and referred one to youth help regarding a large beach fire which covered around 200ha north of Christchurch.
Canterbury Police Rural Area Commander Inspector Peter Cooper said the fire was caused by fireworks.
“We are pleased to have been able to quickly identify those allegedly involved and hope this will reassure the community.”
Cooper asked people to make sure they were lighting fireworks safely. “That includes not lighting them in windy or dry conditions, or around anything that could catch fire, like dry grass or leaves,” he said.
He thanked the 130 people evacuated last night for their patience.
The Pegasus Beach fire continued to burn overnight and covered approximately 200 ha. Incident controller Colin Russell said three helicopters and new crews assembled at dawn.
On Thursday morning, evacuees from the Woodend Campground fire gathered for a town hall meeting.
Cooper confirmed earlier at the rally that they were speaking to two “persons of interest” regarding the fire.
A police spokesman said earlier that two people were seen acting suspiciously inside the cordon and that police are now talking to them.
“They are not believed to be related to how the fire started.
“However, with regard to how the fire started, the police are following good investigative leads.”
The fire came very close to the campground, but volunteers managed to contain it and no property damage was reported. It is hoped that the evacuees will be able to return home this evening. Another meeting will take place at 2 p.m.
Weather forecasts are expected to be similar for this afternoon, allowing fire crews to continue their work, said Wayne Hamilton of Fire and Emergency New Zealand. An audience member asked why they couldn’t decide to come back now instead of 2 p.m. FENZ said the fire is still “very active” and they want to make sure it’s a safe area they can return to. The evacuation center will remain open until the evening.
Incident Controller Colin Russell spoke to the media at 7:30 a.m. Thursday alongside Waimakariri District Mayor Dan Gordon of Woodend Fire Station. He said the main objective was evacuation.
All were “successfully evacuated, all safely” and no property damage was reported, he said.
Evacuees are “good-hearted” and grateful for the fires and emergencies, Gordon said.
Russell said it was too early to say what started the massive fire, but investigations were ongoing. Questions have been raised whether the fire could be linked to ongoing Guy Fawkes celebrations, but Russell would not speculate.
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 set up an investigation team with police, a scene guard is at the site where the incident was first reported.
The first fire broke out around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday evening. About 50 firefighters and 12 fire trucks have since responded.
The fire spread 5km, Russell said, with flames reaching 6m last night. The fire reached the edge of the Woodend Beach Campground.
130 people were evacuated from their homes. Gordon said about 50 evacuees sheltered at the community center overnight but were in good spirits.
Heavy machinery, including two huge bulldozers, managed to dig out a 30m-wide firebreak last night in an attempt to contain the blaze.
While the wind is now weak, the gusts announced have the firefighters on the ground concerned. The air attack will focus on hotspots and contain the worst areas.
Pockets of fire could be seen in various areas of the sand dunes on Thursday morning, along with a forest block – which has recently been cleared in places.
Smoke rises and drifts over the small community of Woodend Beach, where residents spent a jittery, sleepless night.
‘We are so lucky that no one has lost their home,’ one told the Herald. They went to a friend’s house to shelter overnight.
“It was so close.”
Another said the beach community this morning was thick with smoke.
“Hopefully it doesn’t pick up today…the sky is still shining.”
Helicopters attack fire from above
Four helicopters flew in with monsoon buckets, dropping “thousands of liters of water” in an effort to contain the blaze, Fire and Emergency confirmed.
Seven ground crews are working on the flanks and two fixed-wing water bombers are on their way to join the attack on the fire.
Firefighters are aiming to make “as much progress as possible” in fending off the blaze before winds are expected to increase later Thursday morning, incident controller Dave Berry said.
The 130 evacuees will receive an update from Berry later in the morning, no decision has been made by FENZ at this stage as to when the evacuees will be allowed to return home.
Residents and racehorses evacuated
Heavy machinery had been used Wednesday evening to create a firebreak on Pipeline Rd, which runs along Ferry Rd and the end of Pines Beach.
“As far as we know, we haven’t lost any homes or properties, but it’s difficult to get the full picture overnight. We will do an aerial reconnaissance at first light and then we will have a better idea of the extent of the fire,” said Russell.
A second community meeting will be held for evacuees and residents near the fire at 10 a.m. at Woodend Community Centre, which has also been set up as a welfare center by Civil Protection.
Waimakariri Civil Defense and Police assisted FENZ last night in evacuating a number of residents to Woodend Community Center and race horses were also evacuated.
New Zealand Response Teams team leader Jonathan Williams said most people were coming from holiday camp, but many people were also self-evacuating.
Excavator contractor Gary Johnson told the Herald“They wanted to smash a firebreak but it’s going too fast, so they’re going to have us move heavier stuff…and try to smash a firebreak.
“It’s just opening up a big area so the fire doesn’t jump over it. We’ll be here all night.