Ten helicopters with monsoon buckets are being used to tackle a huge blaze in high winds in a conservation area in South Otago.

The fire began at the edge of Te Papanui Conservation Park on Old Dunstan Rd near Middlemarch just before 11am today and by 6pm had burned 2773ha of remote tussock and scrub, a Fire and Emergency spokeswoman said.

By 5pm, the fire had spread from the conservation area to adjoining land owned by the Dunedin City Council.

Fire and Emergency are also liaising with police, St John and Emergency Management Otago personnel in case evacuations are required.


One property has so far been evacuated as a precaution.

Smoke from the fire is visible over a large area of South Otago and people who are sensitive to smoke are being advised to stay indoors with windows and doors shut, and to turn off air conditioning.

Firefighters will continue to tackle the blaze until nightfall and are expected to begin again at daybreak.

Conditions in the area are hot and windy, up to 50kmh from the northeast, and forecast to strengthen during the day.

Ground crews have been sent in where conditions allowed, but the terrain is difficult to access and the fire is moving quickly, she said.

A map showing Te Papanui Conservation Park. Photo / DOC
A map showing Te Papanui Conservation Park. Photo / DOC

Conditions are expected to improve overnight, with the possibility of light showers from about 4am and winds reducing in strength.

The 21,000ha park is managed by the Department of Conservation as a "remote experience area" and was opened in 2003.

The area is special as it is one of high ecological value, protecting a large intact indigenous tussock grassland area, according to Doc's website.


Though open for all sorts of activities - from walking to horse trekking, mountain biking and hunting - fires are banned due to the vulnerable grassland and ecosystems.

- ODT Online