Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes as firefighters are battling a massive wildfire in New Zealand’s third-largest city of Christchurch.
The wildfire, which started earlier this week, in Christchurch’s Port Hills district, rapidly spread overnight to engulf an area covering more than 1,800 hectares, emergency workers said on Thursday.
Officials declared a state of emergency in the South Island city late Wednesday as two blazes, which had been smoldering for days, merged into a single giant fire-front.
Officials advised people in the area to leave and more than 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Nearly a dozen homes were also destroyed by the flames.
“The situation remains very serious,” said David Adamson, Christchurch Civil Defense Controller.
“Police and the Defense Force have had a huge job overnight with evacuations, the setting-up of cordons around key areas and security patrols of areas that have been evacuated,” said Adamson.
Military forces have been providing water tankers and engineering equipment as well as firefighters and other personnel.
A change in the wind direction is predicted for later in the week, which could lower temperatures and humidity and slow the fire’s progress, emergency workers said.
“There’s a whole lot of people here who have been traumatized by the events, some who have lost their homes, many have been evacuated,” Prime Minister Bill English announced after an emergency visit to the disaster zone.
English estimated that it might take up to a week before the fire was fully put out by firefighters working at the disaster site.
He said, however, that the fire had been brought under control and the blaze was not spreading any further.
The cause of the fire is yet known as the matter is under investigation.
The prime minister said it was “suspicious” that two fires had started simultaneously. He advised people, however, not to “jump to conclusions.”
On Tuesday, a helicopter pilot died after his chopper crashed during the firefighting operation.