Eleven helicopters and seven ground crews are battling a huge Canterbury fire that has damaged or destroyed at least 20 homes and forced hundreds of residents to be evacuated.

The massive blaze is burning over 1600ha but despite the heartbreaking loss of property, officials say all residents are accounted for.

An Urban Search and Rescue team will be deployed to make a full assessment of the Lake Ohau Village.

Fire and Emergency Incident Controller Graeme Still said the fire was still burning.

“All residents are accounted for and we will have crews in the village overnight in case of any flare ups,”

It had been unsafe for residents to return to their homes to assess damage due to the high winds which were fanning the blaze.

“I am very mindful of how upsetting it is for the residents. Their safety is our main concern at this time.

More than a 100 people had registered at a evacuation welfare centre operating from the Twizel Events Centre.

Read more on this story at the New Zealand Herald.