Lake Ohau Village has been largely turned to ash after a raging forest fire ripped through the area overnight.
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Dozens of homes appear to have been burned in the fire near Lake Ohau.
Source: Gary Kircher
About 30 houses and as many cars are believed to have been destroyed in the on-going blaze after it blitzed through the Mackenzie Country village last night.
Just how the raging fire began is not yet known according to Civil Defence Minister Peni Henare.
Minister Henare says the situation is a matter of “wait and see” as to what extent the damage caused will be but there is no indication as to what may have triggered the fire.
Several homes have been turned to ash after being engulfed in flames overnight.
“As of now, there is still no understanding of how the fire started at the moment. Pretty sure FENZ will be working to contain it in the first instance before looking at how it started
“Obviously at the moment, of course the focus is on saving people’s lives and saving people’s properties.”
Two other fires have also erupted in the South Island this morning, fuelled by high winds which have fanned the flames and made them difficult to contain.
Fire and Emergency says the Ohau fire is burning through pine forest and grass in the Mackenzie Basin, with 16 fire crews on the ground and five helicopters fighting it.
There is a mixture of shock and confusion among the more than 90 people who were evacuated from Ohau Village in the early hours of this morning.
As a popular spot during the school holidays, many families were forced to flee their homes now needing to seek refuge inside the Twizel Events Centre.
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Helicopters have plunged monsoon buckets into the lake before dousing the flames in attempts to extinguish it.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the loss felt by the local community is “devastating” as emergency services work tirelessly to control the flames.
“I understand that of course, that residents have been evacuated, that there has been property damage and homes lost. So devastating for the community there.”
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher described the scene as heartbreaking, after ariel footage showed the village having been left as smoking rubble.
He’s relieved that everybody appears to have escaped safely, although there were some close calls, with one family waking to their home surrounded by fire, having to drive out through the flames.
“It’s obviously tragic for all of those who have lost their homes, and firefighters did their best to protect them, but when they arrived a number were already fully ablaze and it was too dangerous for them to deal with it and gale force winds,” he said.
The local Pukaki Airfield has been made available to assist emergency services in their efforts to control the blaze.
Police have closed off Lake Ohau Road, near State Highway 8 in the Waitaki district because of the fire.
They are asking motorists to avoid the area while emergency services are at the scene.
Several agencies including Civil Defence and Victim Support are now supporting the evacuees, especially those who have lost their homes.
Emergency services have been evacuating all the residents of Lake Ohau Village, as well as campsites and other properties in the vicinity.
MULTIPLE FIRES ACROSS SOUTH ISLAND
Meanwhile, a large forest fire has also broken out in Livingstone, about 30km northwest of Oamaru.
Fire and Emergency say they were first alerted to the blaze in a pine forest just after 3 am on MacKenzie Road.
A number of homes have also been evacuated.
Sixteen crews as well as a command team from Dunedin are working to bring the fire under control.
They are being assisted by eight helicopters with monsoon buckets.
Further up the country, another blaze has broke out in Domett, North Canterbury this morning.
Nine fire trucks and three helicopters are working to ease the fire which has ripped through the area along Hurunui Mouth Road.
Fire and Emergency say the Department of Conservation huts along the Hurunui river have been evacuated as a precaution.