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New Zealand Wildfires Prompt Hundreds of Evacuations

New Zealand's military has been deployed to provide water tankers and engineering equipment in order to extinguish the fires

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    AP Photo/Mark Baker
    A helicopter dumps water on a wild fire in the Port Hills near Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Up to 15 helicopters, and over a 100 firefighters have been battling two massive wildfires that have burnt over 700 hectares since erupting on Monday evening.

    Hundreds of people in the New Zealand city of Christchurch were evacuated from their homes Wednesday as wildfires threatened some suburbs.

    At least one home was burned down in the Port Hills.

    The mayors of Christchurch City and the adjacent Selwyn District declared a state of emergency. Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton said changing winds had made the fires unpredictable.

    He said the region had been unusually dry for the past three years and that the grass in the hills had turned brown over the Southern Hemisphere summer.

    Smoke and ash was being blown across Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city. Broughton said displaced residents were staying at evacuation centers or with relatives.

    "They need to look after one another, and make sure they have a place to go to tonight," he said.

    Phil Claude told Radio New Zealand he and his family ran down a grass track to escape the fire, which destroyed their home.

    "I could see that the smoke and the flames were being blown right up toward our house," he said. "And I just yelled 'Get out. Get out!'"

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    New Zealand's military has been deployed to provide water tankers and engineering equipment as well as firefighters and other personnel.

    A helicopter pilot died in a crash Tuesday while fighting the blaze.

    The military revealed the pilot, Cpl. David Steven Askin, had won one of the country's top awards for bravery, for his efforts in Afghanistan. A member of the elite Special Air Service, Askin's identity was kept secret at the time he won the Gallantry Star medal in 2014. He was cited for efforts that included helping save guests during the 2011 siege of the luxury Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul that left at least 20 people dead.

    "Corporal Askin was wounded by grenade and rifle fire, yet carried on his mission and rescued guests from the hotel as fire broke out," the Defence Force said in a statement.