NZ Local News

Port Hills fire live updates: Wind change could help or hinder as firefighters battle 630ha blaze

Editor Written by Editor · 3 min read >


More than 100 firefighters, 12 helicopters and two fixed-wing planes are racing to suppress and contain the Port Hills blaze in Christchurch as strengthening winds pose a threat.

The fire was reported at 2.45pm yesterday on Worsleys Rd and by 7pm had spread over an area of 100 hectares.

It has now encroached on the city’s adventure park.

At 7.30am today, it measured 630ha with a 12km perimeter.

Worsleys Rd was at the epicentre of the devastating 2017 fires. Wildfires burned through a total of 1600ha, destroyed nine homes and damaged another five.

It took 66 days before those fires were fully extinguished. One life was lost – helicopter pilot Steve Askin.

Many residents were evacuated last night and are anxiously awaiting news on their homes and when they can return.

Fire crews are battling a large blaze on Christchurch's Port Hills.
Fire crews are battling a large blaze on Christchurch’s Port Hills.

It was confirmed this morning that, so far, no structures have been lost.

Dominique Leening was evacuated – for the second time in seven years.

She said this time around she felt very fortunate.

“We had plenty of time to get the pictures off the walls, get the pets out,” she said.

“There’s some chickens up there still but hoping they’re OK.”

Firefighters battling a fire on Christchurch's Port Hills. Photo / George Heard
Firefighters battling a fire on Christchurch’s Port Hills. Photo / George Heard

Yesterday afternoon she was working from her Worsleys Rd home and hadn’t known a fire had broken out.

Her partner came home from grocery shopping and saw the fire on his way up Dyers Pass Rd.

They walked to the top of Worsleys Rd and saw flames. They packed up and left.

Dominique Leening. Photo / Pierre Nixon
Dominique Leening. Photo / Pierre Nixon

In 2017, the fire came close to their home – and with the hot, dry summer this year, they had been very wary “for a few months now and worried this might happen”.

“Those hills are so ridiculously dry,” Leening said.

The fires seven years ago were a very stressful time.

They were out of their home for a fortnight.

She praised the firefighters for their work – and was thankful for the police presence which is greater than last time.

Fenz and police said it was too early to say what caused the fire – which ignited almost seven years to the day of the 2017 blaze.

Fire Safety and police investigators were already working to ascertain “whether there is any human involvement”.

At 11am, Fenz Incident Controller Dave Stackhouse confirmed the fire had crossed Summit Rd and crews were working hard to prevent it from moving further, with retardants being dropped in the surrounding areas from fixed-wing aircraft.

“We are aware northwesterly wind gusts will be picking up from midday, so our main priority continues to be suppression,” he said.

The smoke billowing from the fire can be seen across the city and Canterbury district and Niwa said it was also visible from space.

Fire and police vehicles are moving steadily up and down Worsleys Rd – and authorities have begged the public to stay away so they can access the area without delay.

The Port Hills fire burning into the Christchurch Adventure Park this morning. Photo / George Heard
The Port Hills fire burning into the Christchurch Adventure Park this morning. Photo / George Heard

Inspector Ash Tabb said “disaster tourists” had been an issue, blocking roads and stopping vital equipment coming in.

They were also preventing residents from coming in and out.

“We just need people out of the way,” he said.

Tabb said the behaviour was driven by people “wanting to get shots on their social media accounts”.

Civil Defence Minister Mark Mitchell surveying the fire field. Photo / Supplied
Civil Defence Minister Mark Mitchell surveying the fire field. Photo / Supplied

Civil Defence Minister Mark Mitchell, who is in Christchurch and went up in a helicopter to survey the scene this morning, joined the plea for people to stay away and stop interfering.

“Allow Fenz and police to do their job,” he said.

Canterbury Civil Defence group controller Richard Ball reassured the community that everything possible is being done to protect them and said response and recovery in an emergency like this is very much a team effort.

A state of emergency was declared for Christchurch – including Banks Peninsula – and the neighbouring Selwyn District last night.

It remains in place.

Firefighters battling a fire on Christchurch's Port Hills. Photo / George Heard
Firefighters battling a fire on Christchurch’s Port Hills. Photo / George Heard

Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton and Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger said emergency services “know what they are doing”.

“It is running extremely well … we declared the state of emergency so the people who know what they are doing really have the power to do their best,” said Mauger.

Broughton thanked the frontline staff for their work and acknowledged the emotional toll the fire had on people who might be affected and urged those struggling to seek help.

“The fire is not a respecter of boundaries,” said Broughton.

“We are looking forward to this being brought under control.”

The fire's smoke can be seen in space. Image / NIWA
The fire’s smoke can be seen in space. Image / NIWA

The Coastguard has also issued a plea for boaties to stay away from the western end of Lyttelton Harbour and Governors Bay as helicopters are using that area to fill their buckets.

Christchurch Adventure Park Limited director John McVicar told the Herald the fire had impacted the site but he was unsure how bad the damage was.

“To what extent I don’t know at this time,” he said.

“We’re completely devastated by it, especially after it’s only been a few years since the last one.

“We don’t have enough information really to have a good assessment of what’s happened. Until we do we will not be able to assess.”

“It’s really just left up to Fire and Emergency to deal with it the way they do.”

View of the fire from Westmoreland. Photo / Anna Leask
View of the fire from Westmoreland. Photo / Anna Leask

Two evacuation centres were set up yesterday but no one stayed there overnight.

Around 100 residents have piled into the Halswell library and community centre for a briefing from authorities which started at 11am.

The smoke plume from the Port Hills fire can still be seen from space this morning, Niwa reports.

With hot weather and wind forecast for the Canterbury region, Fire and Emergency is reminding the public to be extra vigilant.

Dave Stackhouse says hot and windy weather will create extreme fire behaviour if any new fires start.

“We ask everyone across Canterbury to take great care with any activities that could cause any sparks and start another fire.”

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz



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