A wildfire that started Monday, February 13 continues to burn in Christchurch, New Zealand. Over 130 firefighters, 14 helicopters, and 3 planes have been deployed to fight the blaze. Additionally, after a state of emergency was declared in Christchurch and the neighboring Selwyn District, the military was sent to provide supplies and help the firefighting efforts. So far, a total of 11 homes have been destroyed, and one pilot, who was also a decorated soldier, died while fighting the fire on Tuesday. By Thursday February 16 the fire was contained to a 2,075 hectare area. The crews say they have halted the fire’s advance towards homes, and they plan to let the fire burn itself out, aided by the rain expected over the weekend.
The fire broke out in two places almost simultaneously on Monday and then merged into one blaze, leading to suspicions that it was set intentionally. Additionally, Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton says the region has been unusually dry for the last three years, and that all the grass had turned brown, creating dangerous fire conditions. Changing winds have made the fire unpredictable and have blown smoke and ash across Christchurch.
Evacuations from the area started on Wednesday, with the police evacuating 400 homes and hundreds more people leaving the area voluntarily. In total, more than 1,000 people were evacuated and officials closed three schools. Those displaced have been staying with relatives or at evacuation centers, and local residents set up a Facebook group to offer open rooms and properties to those forced to evacuate. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Bill English, stated that the fire was “contained but not controlled” but the local community “knows how to stick together when things are difficult”.
Sources and Further Reading:
Christchurch Port Hills wildfires prompt hundreds of evacuations – The Telegraph
New Zealand Wildfire Halted Before More Homes Burn – The Weather Channel