Civil defence authorities vow to retrieve eight bodies from Whakaari by Friday as official death toll rises to eight.
Bushfires have destroyed dozens of homes in New Zealand, authorities said on Monday, saying it was a miracle no one was hurt when “a wall of orange” descended on a remote South Island village.
The blaze began in a mountain forest early on Sunday morning and, fanned by strong winds, swept through the village of Lake Ohau, forcing residents to flee for their lives.
According to the New Zealand fire emergency agency on Monday, at least 4,600 hectares (11,366 acres) of land were affected by the blaze, which also displaced more than 100 people.
“The high winds meant the fire could not yet be contained and the situation may change rapidly with any shift in the wind,” Fire and Emergency New Zealand said.
Lake Ōhau #Fire #NZ: This @CopernicusEU Sentinel 2B satellite image shows the burnt area and fire front(s) at 11:37 am Sunday October 4 (NZDT). The dirty brown bit in the middle is burnt. The bright orange is the hottest ground. Green is vegetation, cyan is snow (1/3) pic.twitter.com/Bo5DtwOr1L
— Todd Redpath (@toddrednz) October 5, 2020
“At this stage we are confident that crews would have achieved 50 percent control of the fire perimeter by tomorrow night,” it added on Monday.
The agency said up to 50 structures were destroyed and conditions remained “challenging”, with 11 helicopters and nine fire crews attempting to contain the flames.
Damage assessment was still underway.
Waitaki District mayor Gary Kircher said the tiny Lake Ohau community had been devastated.
“Of the 60 or 70 houses, we believe that the majority have gone,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“The reality is that it’s a minor miracle no one has been harmed. If it had been another 15-20 minutes, it would have been a very different story.”