WELLINGTON - Wildfires have destroyed up to 50 homes in New Zealand, authorities announced on Monday, saying it was a miracle no one was hurt as "a wall of orange" razed most of a remote South Island village.
The blaze began in a mountain forest early Sunday morning and, fanned by strong winds, swept through the village of Lake Ohau, forcing residents to flee for their lives.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) said the unpredictable winds made fighting the fire "challenging" and by Monday afternoon it had razed 4,600 hectares of land.
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."
Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare described seeing burned-out cars and gutted homes.
"The term I've heard used to describe it is a war zone," he told reporters.
"It's clear to me that there's no rhyme or reason when it comes to fire, one house is affected, the neighbour isn't... you can feel a sense of loss."
FENZ said 11 helicopters and eight fire crews were attempting to contain the flames.
With light rain forecast for the next 24 hours, there were hopes it would be under control by Tuesday night.