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Wildfire destroys homes in NZ

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The fires were fanned by strong winds and merged into one. It covered more than 1850 hectares on Wednesday night.

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17th-Feb-2017       
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RTE News :
A wildfire has destroyed at least 11 homes and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.
Civil defence officials declared a state of emergency in the South Island city late last night as two blazes that had been smouldering for days merged into a single giant fire-front.
Christchurch City Council said more than 1,800 hectares of land had been torched in the Port Hills, an area of rugged terrain difficult to access to the east of the city centre.
About 1,000 people had been evacuated and, with winds forecast to pick up
 and fan the flames, authorities warned residents to leave at the first sign of danger.
"We understand it's hard for people to leave their homes but the fire can change direction and move incredibly quickly," police senior sergeant Ash Tabb said.
"If you're worried, don't leave it too late - it's better to be safe than sorry."
With a thick pall of smoke hanging over Christchurch, residents with respiratory ailments were advised to stay indoors.
Wildfires of such ferocity are rare in New Zealand, where regular rainfall usually prevents them reaching the intensity seen in places like Australia and the US west coast.
Prime Minister Bill English took a helicopter flight over the disaster zone and said the blazes may have been deliberately lit. "I've only had a very brief description of the fire starting in two places at about the same time, which to me looks suspicious," he told reporters.
"But those investigations are under way."
The emergency has so far claimed one life, when a helicopter pilot was killed in a crash on Tuesday while on a mission to dump water on the flames.
Civil Defence said it had confirmed 11 homes had been destoryed but added the situation was constantly changing.
It said 14 helicopters and three planes were helping battle the blaze, the maximum number of aircraft that could safely operate around the fire-front at one time.
200 firefighters were operating about 45 pumps and tankers on the ground, with police and the military also providing additional personnel for the emergency response.
Civil defence said weather conditions were forecast to ease tomorrow, slowing the fire's progress.

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