SYDNEY (Reuters): Strong winds on Sunday are expected to fan forest fires that have been burning for a week through New Zealand’s South Island, forcing thousands of people from their homes, with more residents expected to flee, officials said. The Pigeon Valley fire covers 2,300 ha (5,700 acres) with a 25 km (15 mile) perimeter, NZ Civil Defence said in a statement on its website. No deaths have been reported and only one home destroyed.
“There is some concern about predicted high winds this afternoon, which are expected to test the control lines,” the agency said. Early on Sunday, 155 firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground with air support from 23 helicopters and 3 fixed wing planes, the agency said, making it the largest aerial firefight on record in New Zealand. Up to 3,000 people have been forced to leave the Wakefield and Pigeon Valley areas, NZ Civil Defence Controller Roger Ball told a Saturday news conference on Saturday.