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Christchurch grass fire under control, wild animal park lucky to escape

2 February 2003

Canterbury firefighters had a large grassfire west of the city under control by about 7pm today and say a late afternoon wind change made the difference in their battle.

Christchurch’s Principal Rural Fire Office Keith Marshall says voluntary and professional firefighters from the city and surrounding areas did a great job stopping the fire from crossing McLeans Island Road, west of Christchurch International Airport.

“It’s been a big effort by a lot of people,” he says. “If it had crossed that road it would’ve gone all the way to the Waimakariri River bed and we’re all very relieved that we managed to keep it out of Orana Park because, make no mistake, it was under very real threat at one stage.”

Mr Marshall says nobody was hurt, but Orana Park patrons and shooters at a nearby gun club had to be evacuated. The fire has destroyed several hectares of plantation forest and a large area of dry pasture land. The gun clubrooms were not burned although the fire passed it. It also passed through land used by paintball and Ultimate Game players.

The fire began in the early afternoon near where Miners Road meets West Coast Road, about 3km west of the airport. It ran north west and at times its front was at least 1000m across, Mr Marshall estimates. Getting firefighting resources to it was complicated because many were already involved with a grass fire at Mary Duncan Park near Heathcote which started around midday.

“It wasn’t until about 5.15pm when the wind swung around to the east,” Mr Marshall says. “That probably saved our bacon. I’ve no idea how either fire started. I haven’t had time to think about that yet.”

A regional incident management team, based at the airport, was last night preparing rosters for fire crews which would work from 8.30pm until 7am tomorrow (Monday) when they would be relieved by other crews.

Involved in today’s operation were at least eight NZ Fire Service machines from the city; volunteer brigades and rural fire forces from the city, West Melton, Rolleston, Brooklands, Woodend and Lincoln; equipment and staff from the airport and the army base at Burnham. Helping coordinate the effort were staff from the City Council; the Department of Conservation; from the Waimakariri, Hurunui and Canterbury Regional councils; and from the South Canterbury Rural Fire District.

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