New Zealand wildfires set to worsen as thousands flee
Week-long blaze engulfs 2,300ha on South Island, leading to largest aerial firefight in country’s history
Strong winds are expected to fan forest fires that have been burning for a week through New Zealand’s South Island, forcing thousands of people from their homes.
Early on Sunday, 155 firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground with air support from 23 helicopters and three fixed wing planes, making it the largest aerial firefight on record in New Zealand
Up to 3,000 people have been forced to leave the Wakefield and Pigeon Valley areas, the civil defence controller, Roger Ball, told a news conference on Saturday. More people were likely to be forced from their homes on Sunday.
The Pigeon Valley fire covers 2,300 hectares (5,700 acres) with a 25 km (15 mile) perimeter, NZ Civil Defence said on its website. No deaths have been reported and only one home destroyed as of Sunday.
“There is some concern about predicted high winds this afternoon, which are expected to test the control lines,” the agency said.
The New Zealand Red Cross communications manager Ellie van Baaren said evacuees were tired and frustrated.
“When you have to leave your home and in some cases your livestock and animals and you don’t know what’s become of them, and you’re staying with friends and family, then it’s an uncertain situation for everybody,” she said.
Much of the affected area south of Nelson was used for forestry but it also has many small farms. Some livestock has also been moved to safety.
Fires started on Monday and Tuesday and quickly spread. On Wednesday, authorities declared a state of emergency.
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