3,000 evacuated from New Zealand fire could soon return home

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand authorities are hoping most of the 3,000 people evacuated from a town threatened by wildfire will be able to return to their homes on Monday evening.

Firefighters say they’ve gained the upper hand over the blaze thanks to favorable weather conditions. The forest fire began nearly a week ago on the South Island and burned 2,300 hectares (5,700 acres). It burned down one house.

The fire threatened the town of Wakefield, prompting evacuations from there since Friday.

Nelson-Tasman Civil Defence incident controller Roger Ball told reporters on Monday they had made good progress in containing the fire and would decide later in the day if most residents could return in the evening.

“Returning residents need to understand and accept that they will need to be prepared to evacuate again if conditions change,” Ball said.

He said some residents who lived in valleys close to the fire would not yet be able to return home.

About 190 firefighters, 10 helicopters and two planes have been deployed to battle the fire. No significant rainfall is forecast in the area over the next two weeks, and authorities say they expect they will need to keep dampening down hotspots until March.

Authorities believe the fire was started by sparks from farm equipment.

Australia and New Zealand have been experiencing a hot Southern Hemisphere summer.

Australia sweltered through its hottest month on record in January and there have been wildfires razing the south and flooding in the tropical north. 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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