Fire causes havoc for Woodend beach trainers

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News desk 

Woodend's harness racing community is "regrouping" this morning after a massive fire threatened their properties overnight.

"It was a shocker," says John Dunn, who's training establishment was closest to the blaze.

"It got to within 100 metres of us."

The flames were estimated at being around six metres high.

"If the wind had turned we would have been history."

Around 70 firefighters along with helicopters and earthmoving equipment were all involved in trying to contain the fire after it broke out at around 7.30 last night at Pegasus Bay, about 35 kilometres north of Christchurch.

There's been a suggestion fireworks may have been involved. A total of 130 local residents were also evacuated.

"The wind was terrible," says Dunn, "the whole place was thick with smoke and you could hear the noise of the fire."

In total around 100 horses were moved from the Dunns' and other local beach trainers including Gavin Smith, Matt Purvis and Greg and Nina Hope. It was a big team effort, with Dunn saying he finished "around 4.30".

"It was amazing the support we had from everyone - not just racing people but the whole community," says Smith.

"It was like a revolving door - one float would be filled up and head off and there'd be another one ready to go."

"I was fending calls for four hours from people wanting to help - everyone is just so grateful."

Smith moved his horses to his other stable at Rangiora, while Dunn says his are sprinkled around a number of places.

"I just need to regroup a bit today ..... I know where they all are."

The timing is particularly bad with Cup and Show week just days away.

"It's a spanner in the works," says Dunn, "and it does interrupt their preparation."

It's not known how long their local beach will be out of bounds for though in the meantime the nearby Rangiora Racecourse is open and available and free to anyone who wants to use it.


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