Residents flee raging New Zealand fires

Kyle Mooney with 8-month-old Brooklyn one of the couple's four children

LUZ ZUNIGA STUFFKyle Mooney with 8-month-old Brooklyn one of the couple's four children

Thousands of people have been evacuated from a New Zealand town as firefighters battle a wildfire stoked by winds in the country's South Island.

About 3,000 inhabitants of Wakefield, just outside Nelson at the top of South Island, were ordered out on Saturday as flames razed bushland within two kilometres of their homes.

It had swept across about 2,100 hectares of mainly bush and pine forest since erupting in the tinder-dry rural district on Tuesday. "Although I sense we might be turning a corner, there will be firefighters working on the fire well into March".

"While I'm immensely relieved there's been no loss of life and want to thank all of those involved in tackling this huge fire, it's clear there are going to be some hard times ahead until we get the fire fully under control and people back to their homes", she said.

Though no serious injuries have been reported, one house burned down earlier in the week.

Fire chief John Sutton said that although conditions had eased, the blaze remained unpredictable and it was too early to say it was under control.

He said residents who return need to be prepared to evacuate again if conditions change.

"Our focus at the moment is moving more into the fire ground and concentrating on the moving heat and trying to widen the amount of containment all the way around the fire".

The main fire is believed to have been accidentally started by farm equipment, although there have also been two minor blazes which police said were deliberately lit.

Australia and New Zealand have been experiencing a hot Southern Hemisphere summer. New Zealand's weather hasn't been as extreme, although it did experience a heatwave over the last few days of January.

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