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Christchurch declares emergency as New Zealand wildfires spread

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Staff Writer | February 15, 2017
New Zealand's second largest city of Christchurch declared a state of emergency as wildfires forced hundreds of people to flee their threatened homes.
Fires   Orion remains on full alert
It was the second state of local emergency declared in two days as fires continued to blaze in the eastern regions of Hawke's Bay, in the North Island, and in Canterbury, in the South Island.

Around 300 to 400 people were evacuated Wednesday from homes in the outlying Port Hills area of Christchurch and hundreds of others had evacuated of their own accord, according to the Christchurch City Council.

The fires were within an estimated area of 1,655 hectares, but not all of the area was alight as the fire has been extinguished in some locations, said a council statement.

Christchurch civil defence controller John Mackie said states of emergency had been declared in Christchurch and the Selwyn district, in the surrounding Canterbury region.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) had been deployed to support the response to the fires, Mackie said in the statement.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the city had to ensure the safety and welfare of residents.

"Christchurch needs a multi-agency response given the seriousness of the situation. We need to be able to draw on all the resources possible to give our residents confidence in the ongoing response," Dalziel said in a statement.

Civil Defence and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee requested the NZDF to provide support to local authorities in Christchurch as they dealt with the Port Hills fires.

The NZDF Wednesday deployed a liaison officer to advise local fire authorities on what further support the NZDF could provide, Brownlee said.

The NZDF would also deploy forward logistics personnel and equipment from the nearby Burnham Military Camp.

"Engineering equipment, water tankers and manpower options that will support cordons, firebreaks, and firefighters will also be deployed," said Brownlee.

Since Tuesday, six NZDF firefighters and two appliances had been helping fight the fires in Canterbury.

Late Wednesday, Civil Defence authorities in Hawke's Bay said the state of local emergency declared Tuesday in the Hastings district had been lifted.

However, the fire risk in the district was still extremely high and residents were asked to remain ready to evacuate if necessary, said a statement from the Hawke's Bay emergency management group.

About 18 NZDF firefighters with ultra-high-pressure hoses remained in the district, but the fires were believed to be contained.

Both regions are enduring hot, dry and windy southern summers.

On Tuesday, a pilot died when a helicopter crashed while helping to fight against the fires in the hills around Christchurch.

Orion, the city's lines company, says it remains on full alert, ready to respond to any issues with power supply as a result of the fires continuing in the Port Hills.

The unpredictability of the fire and the course it may take poses some threat to continuity of power supply to the Port Hills and the greater city.

It is possible that there will be further outages until the fires are fully extinguished.

Orion urges residents in the Port Hills area to take particular care around electricity at this time.