Strong winds on Sunday are expected to fan forest fires that have been burning for a week through New Zealand's South Island, forcing thousands of people from their homes, with more residents expected to flee, officials said. As of Monday, the blaze was still scorching the island's arid countryside, but as firefighting conditions improved, around 3,000 evacuated residents were allowed to return home.
It had swept across about 2,100 hectares of mainly bush and pine forest since erupting in the tinder-dry rural district on Tuesday.
Though no serious injuries have been reported, one house burned down earlier in the week.
About 190 firefighters, 10 helicopters and two planes have been deployed to battle the fire.
Fire crews have, meanwhile, contained several other blazes that broke out in the region during the week amid drought-like conditions.
Civil Defence regional chief Roger Ball said Wakefield residents could return home as early as Monday evening but the area was still under a state of emergency.
He said residents who return need to be prepared to evacuate again if conditions change.
"Our most significant efforts are now focused on a fire front near Wakefield which is moving slowly downslope", Fire and Emergency said.
The main fire is believed to have been accidentally started by farm equipment, although there have also been two minor blazes which police said were deliberately lit.
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 has not been as extreme, although it did experience a heatwave over the last few days of January.