WELLINGTON Feb 16 More than 1,000 people were
evacuated from their homes and a state of emergency was declared
in New Zealand's third largest city of Christchurch on Thursday
because a wildfire threatens homes.
The fire in the Port Hills district of the city began
earlier this week but spread rapidly overnight to cover more
than 1,800 hectares (4,447.9 acres), emergency workers said.
Prime Minister Bill English canceled all his engagements to
set off for Christchurch to monitor developments.
"The situation remains very serious," said David Adamson,
Christchurch Civil Defence Controller. "Police and the Defence
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."
Fifteen helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, the maximum
number that can safely be in the air at any one time, have been
despatched amid forecasts for winds that could fan the flames.
A change in the wind direction is predicted for later in the
week that will lower temperatures and humidity and could slow
the fire's progress, emergency workers said.
A helicopter pilot died on Tuesday after crashing while
tackling the blaze.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Colin Packham in SYDNEY.
Editing by Jane Wardell and Grant McCool)