At least 1,000 people evacuated in New Zealand's Christchurch and Selwyn districts, where officials declared a state of emergency, due to the Port Hills wildfires that have grown to more than 5,100 acres. Photo courtesy of New Zealand Fire Service
Feb. 16 (UPI) -- New Zealand declared a state of emergency in Christchurch and Selwyn due to the Port Hills wildfires that burned down at least 11 homes and killed one person.
Officials said more than 1,000 people evacuated from about 450 houses. The fires have reached a size of more than 5,100 acres. New Zealand deployed its military to help fight the flames.
"We have had significant fire breaks created with heavy machinery and the firefighting effort has targeted the perimeter. While there are still areas burning out of control, the fire is contained within the 2,075 hectare area," Christchurch Civil Defence official Dave Adamson said in a statement. "What's encouraging is that the weather forecast looks promising for the next two days with high cloud, cooler temperatures and a chance of rain on Saturday. However, the situation remains volatile."
A decorated New Zealand Special Air Service pilot died in a helicopter crash on Tuesday. Two other people are hospitalized due to smoke inhalation and another due to an injured ankle.
Officials are working to determine the cause of the fire. New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English said the cause "looks a bit suspicious."
Two separate fires began on Monday. More than 130 firefighters are battling the blazes on the ground, while 14 helicopters and three planes are also working to douse the flames. Officials closed at least three schools.
Officials are using thermal imaging to map the hotspots of the fires. The firefighters are working to control, not extinguish, the flames.