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Video: Dozens of houses destroyed in large fire in the Mackenzie Basin

Oct 04, 2020

A Lake Ohau Village resident says the village now resembles a war zone, with about 30 houses and many cars destroyed by a wildfire that has blitzed the Mackenzie Country area.

Fire and Emergency says it is burning through pine forest and grass in the Mackenzie Basin, and is being fanned by strong westerly winds.


The fire is said to now be racing south towards Ohau Downs.

Fire and Emergency now says the fire is 200 hectares in size and growing, and the strong winds are making firefighting conditions challenging.

It has confirmed that dozens of houses have been lost.

There are 16 crews fighting it.

About 200 people are now gathered at the evacuation centre in Twizel.

David Stone says the small village had about 50 houses, many of which he believes have been burnt down, including his own.

He told RNZ that earlier this morning he had been standing near Lake Ohau watching a helicopter fight the fire right on the road, and three helicopters working over the village.

"We've been told it's [his house] gone. Near me is a couple who've lived here 27 years and their place two along from us, I think it's gone too.

"Sort of looking over the smoke that's coming down towards Twizel, it's very prominent to my left, it's been moving around - it's peculiar.

"There's a number of lifestyle blocks between the village and where the fire is currently. And probably they've suffered, as well."

Stone said three helicopters are putting water on the blaze over the village, and the fire has gone travelled down the lake.

"There's been extraordinarily strong winds here - Ohau means place of wind, and it's certainly lived up to it."

Stone said cars have also been burnt out and the area resembles a war zone.

Stone said the fire was now being fuelled by dry tussock grasses as it burned through the Canterbury merino farmland.

The Waitaki Emergency Operations Centre has been activated; controller Peter Muldrew says and people evacuated from the village are being registered at the welfare centre set up in Twizel.

Waitaki district mayor Gary Kircher said the village's residents are in a state of shock.

"They had to get out very, very quickly.

"It would be very understandable for them to be in that state of disbelief. I think it really hit home when I got an email with some photos from one of the homeowners with the subject line of: 'end of an era for us'.

"The Ohau Village is mostly holiday homes and homes that people want to retire to, and very much a lifestyle almost in the wilderness, and for many people that's going to be gone."

He said it's suspected the fire was caused by powerlines arcing in the wind.

The police say Lake Ohau Road, off State Highway 8 in the Waitaki district, is currently closed because of the fire.

The police are asking motorists to avoid the area while emergency services are at the scene.

Senior Sergeant Paul Robertson says several agencies are now supporting the evacuees, especially those who have lost their homes.

"We've got Civil Defence on board and my understanding is that we'll be contacting Victim Support as well."

Police have been evacuating all the residents of Lake Ohau Village, as well as campsites and other properties in the vicinity.

"The police and fire [Fire and Emergency] are currently searching through the village to make sure everyone's accounted for."

Robertson says residents were initially evacuated to the nearby Ohau Lodge. However, Civil Defence says they're now being directed to the Twizel Events Centre.

Speaking from the Twizel welfare centre Ahuriri ward councillor Ross McRobie told RNZ that so far everyone is safe.

"There's a lot of sadness with the groups of people here... many of them have lost their homes. What they've got is just what they've got with them, some people don't have wallets, some people have got no clothes, but they've all got vehicles it appears."

Hugh Spiers, who runs a bed-and-breakfast in the area, told the New Zealand Herald he had to get out quickly after a call at 3am.

He says it was terrifying driving through the fire terrain. He was separated from his father in the dark while escaping, but has since reconnected with his family and guests, all of whom have been accounted for.

Meanwhile, a large forest fire has also broken out in the settlement of Livingstone, about 30km northwest of Oamaru.

Fire and Emergency say they were alerted at 3.15am to the pine forest blaze on MacKenzie Road. A number of homes in the area have also been evacuated.

Sixteen crews, including a command team from Dunedin, are trying to bring that fire under control. They are being assisted by eight helicopters with monsoon buckets.

Fire and Emergency says the blaze is being fanned by strong winds.

Firefighters battled a huge blaze in the region last month.

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