Behind the Flaming Rabbit smolders a story of a once regular threat about these parts - Fire! - and of the locals, who when the alarm was raised, pitched in to put it out.
“The plains were ablaze from the Waimakariri to the Selwyn, from the hills to the swamps below the Springs tracks” - was how the Harvest time fire in the dry summer of 1863 was reported, and the blaze of 1897 was also remembered as particularly bad.
Long hot summers and strong dry winds didn’t help and significant local fires blazed
across the quick drying soils of the Canterbury Plains up to the 1960s when coordinated
rapid response rendered the hazard less severe.
But back to February 1932 and a hot Wednesday morning - 11.39am to be exact.
Beside the Main South Road at Rolleston the fire got going - it was said a steamroller
set things o. Fanned by a strong Nor’wester and “burning rabbits” the spread was
rapid and in no time flat the fire had raced 3 miles across the parched dry grassland,
heading for Springston and Lincoln.
The smoke was seen, the call went out. From the sale yards at Addington dozens raced
back, from Threshing Mills, College, farm, village and town, fire-fighters piled-in by the
score, equipped with wet sacks, shovels and torn limbs of pine and not much more.
The fight was desperate and drawn-out, fire jumping roads and breaks. The sta and
students of Lincoln College saving the Skellerup Plantation was splendid and all but
one farmhouse was kept safe. Locanda Mac - a champion pacer - raced into more
humble work - rounding up sheep in the path of the fire.
The damage was tremendous; acres of pasture, a pine plantation, fences of course, corn
stacks, oats by the sackful, farmers’ huts, orchards and a score of sheep were caught,
and a Chevrolet car, its escaping owner abandoning the car to save his house.
Late afternoon a lull and then change in wind direction assisted the fight but it was grit
and hard work that won the day and kept the fire at bay. And when the blaze was finally
beat, the tired locals deserved all praise (and reward!), and for a long time after it was
said, “never had a cold beer tasted so good”