Hanmer Springs cut off by bushfire

A MASSIVE bushfire in New Zealand has cut off the South Island town of Hanmer Springs today.

Thirty residents have been evacuated to the town's sports pavillion.

Christchurch Police District Command Centre spokesperson Kath Pomfrett said all roads in and out of the southern town were closed due to the fire which broke out at 1.20am.

"You can't go in and out of the town," she said.

"The town is cut off."

At this stage residents of the township were not in danger.

"They have been moved to the sports pavillion," she said.

The town's power supply had also been cut.

The River Road to the north of the town and the 7A turn off to the south were both closed isolating the town.

She said the fire started in the scrub along a nearby river.

Fire Service Canterbury District Commander Dave Berry said the fire now spanned 50 hectares of steep land and burning out of control.

"We're awaiting dawn to attack with helicopters and there are five helicopters that have been ordered," he said.

Both the terrain and windy, gusty conditions were making it difficult to fight the blaze.
A couple of homes were also under threat.

"It's quite steep terrain with wind gusts coming through and we've got a couple of houses we're protecting," he said.

There were 17 fire crews fighting the blaze including rural tankers and urban fires and a command unit from Christchurch.

He said the initial call came in at 11.40pm when the scrub was seen on fire along the nearby Waiau River.

The Hurunui District Council has posted on its Facebook page that civil defence has activated an emergency welfare centre at the Rugby Pavilion.

It said up to 20 houses had now been evacuated.

MainPower was not likely to restore power to the township until after midday.

A number of poles had been destroyed and a decision was made last night to turn power off to the area due to the fire.

The Council Facebook page described the difficulties facing firefighters this morning.

"We've got a large fire in steep terrain in the dark with winds of 60-70kmh.

"We have a team defending the Ferry Bridge," read the post.

The district council said there were no reports of property loss at this stage.

Protecting life and property had been the priority overnight.

It said the fire service was concentrating its efforts defending the historic wooden Ferry Bridge which spanned the Waiau River.

Graeme Abbot - spokesman for the civil defence effort in Hanmer - told the Herald this morning that there are 70 firefighters, and 17 vehicles, currently fighting the 50ha blaze.

The alarm went off at 11.40pm last night, he said, and firefighters have been battling the fire since.

"They haven't been able to control it. What they have been able to do is to secure or make safe two houses that were in the immediate vicinity and also the Ferry Bridge - which is the connecting bridge from the main road into Hanmer Springs. Those are all safe."

Mr Abbot said four or five helicopters were about to take off to evaluate the situation.

The fire was in a very hard to get area.

He said there had been no injuries or houses damaged, but 20 had been evacuated.

Mr Abbot said a plan as to how to deal with the fire would be undertaken soon - once the helicopters have evaluated the site.

"The other issue we have is that the phone lines that take the power into Hanmer Springs have been burnt and are down. So there will be no power in Hanmer...until later in the day - that's probably the best update I can give."

He said understandably MainPower haven't been able to assess the power line damage properly yet because of the danger the fire still poses.

Mr Abbot, who is also the general manager of Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, said everything is running pretty smoothly, given the situation.

"The full emergency services have been set up in Hanmer Springs, so there's an area the people have been relocated to and all the systems are under control."

Hanmer resident Karen McPhee told the Herald that despite it being dark she can see the fire from home - "on the ridge heading east from the bridge".

She said her power is out and that the fire was up on the hill about 4km-5km away.

"The wind is quite bad here at the moment - really strong. The wind's bad, so I just hope they can (stop the fire) because it's the only bridge in and out of Hanmer.

"So I guess we're not going anywhere."

She said the local emergency services were "awesome" and that they had already activated civil defence.

"So that's all in action to keep everyone safe and if anyone wasn't safe then they'll start plans to get people out by other means."

She said the fire was burning "right there on the hill as you come over the Hanmer Bridge."

"I can see some hot spots but it depends on the wind because the wind is pretty [strong]. I can see it making its way up the hill a little bit but it's really hard to tell because it's dark.

"I can see a bit of a hot spot that's gone up at the moment.

"All I know is that it's windy and we've got a fire on the hill and hopefully it doesn't cut out our bridge - that's the only way in and out."

Local residents are reacting to the blaze on social media.

Liza Brien wrote on Facebook: "The price we pay for living in paradise. Just a few kms from home. Bridge out of town closed. Hoping wind dies down or at least keeps blowing same way. Good luck Hanmer, love you."

Nikki McArthur wrote: "...we are in Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury. We got woken by massive gusts of winds so got up and looked out the window to see a massive fire on a hill surrounding Hanmer and to find us and all the neighbours have no power. I don't know exactly where it is but looks like it's at the entrance to Hanmer Springs. We are up on Conical Hill so this is looking across to the other side."

Sheryl Dennis said on Facebook that the fire was burning above the bungy bridge at Hanmer Springs.

A local café and bar in Hanmer Springs is serving breakfast for all emergency services personnel this morning.

Running on a large generator, the Fire & Ice Cafe Restaurant & Bar has been serving those helping to fight the fire breakfast from 7.30am.

Local resident Denise Smith has been posting on Facebook about the local efforts to help emergency workers.

"Tea coffee and girl guide bikkies for all workers and displaced residents outside maze by bridge," she wrote.

The Hanmer Hammer Hardware is open for any supplies that local residents may need, as is the local Monteiths bar.

Other bars and cafes, as well as local residents, have also been reaching out to offer their homes and businesses for those that have had to evacuate because of the fire.

The Hanmer Four Square supermarket is running on a back-up generator.

"We will be open as usual at 8.00am," the store wrote on Facebook. "We have limited supply of bread which I am holding out the back so please ask if you want some (we have kept some bread for the fire brigrade in order to feed them today)."

There have also been plenty of enquiries regarding the safety of the Hanmer Pet Retreat.

Jane van Keulen wrote on Facebook this morning that all pets were "happy and healthy".

"All is safe and sound down there. The fire is across the river and up on the hillside. Our thoughts are with all the emergency workers and families who have been working for hours. Also with families who have been evacuated from Medway Rd. Stressful night for all concerned."

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