Port Hills fire: Homes destroyed, more residents evacuating

Newstalk ZB Staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Feb 2017, 4:27PM

Port Hills fire: Homes destroyed, more residents evacuating

Newstalk ZB Staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Feb 2017, 4:27PM



• State of emergency declared in Christchurch and Selwyn.
• A helicopter pilot is dead and up to eight homes have been destroyed.
• At least three houses have been destroyed in the Worsley Rd area, not 40 as previously reported by Civil Defence.
• The Nga Hau e Wha Marae is now open to residents who have been evacuated.
• Reports of 1000 people evacuating, up to 400 forced to evacuate by authorities.
• Police and the Defence Force are evacuating residents in the suburb of Cashmere Hills.
• Residents on Long Hurst Terrace, off Dyers Pass Rd are told to evacuate immediately.
• Homes along Kennedys Bush, Cashmere and Hoon Hay Valley roads are being evacuated.
• Homes from the Sign of the Takahe to Victoria Park are being evacuated.
• Several road closures.
• A health warning issued for anyone suffering respiratory issues to contact their GP.
• 120 firefighters, 15 helicopters and two aircraft have been batting the blazes at Governors Bay and Marley Hill.
• Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft have been stood down but fire crews will remain on the ground overnight.

More than 1000 residents have fled their homes and up to eight properties have burned to the ground as a huge wild fire rages on in Christchurch.

Terrified residents ran clutching precious belongings or bundled children into cars as the black smoke ballooned from the flames tearing through tinder dry scrub land.

Several fires have now merged into one which is now estimated to have scorched more than 1850ha of land but is still growing.

A state of emergency was declared in Christchurch and Selwyn, the Defence Force was deployed and health authorities issued warnings to vulnerable residents as black smoke drifted across the city.

Civil Defence were forced to revise down the number of homes destroyed on Worsley Spur tonight to two or three after earlier issuing a statement saying 40 homes had been lost.

A spokeswoman said the error was the result of misinformation being given to a rural fire officer and was revised following a "correction from the police on earlier information".

The incorrect figure was widely reported earlier tonight by media and made it into some copies of the morning Herald.

Little information was available on how the error occurred but hard questions will need to be asked of authorities tomorrow morning.

Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday questioned the emergency response, saying he was "perplexed" over why a state of emergency was not declared earlier.

When contacted just after midnight about the developing emergency situation, Brownlee said, "You've got to be kidding. Call me in the morning."

As the fire raged on, additional police and Defence Force staff were brought in to work through the night evacuating households at risk from the huge flames.

"Police and New Zealand Defence personnel are currently evacuating homes in the Kennedys Bush, Cashmere and Hoon Hay Valley roads as well as homes from the Sign of the Takahe to Victoria Park. The advice from Civil Defence is that if you have any concerns about your safety, leave your home."

Selwyn Principal Rural Fire Officer Douglas Marshall said staff had earlier evacuated about 300 to 400 people out of the area but hundreds more had self evacuated.

Marshall said the fires were no longer contained.

Emergency services were looking at a national coordination effort to bring in more resources.

"We're really struggling at the moment without the helicopters it's too dangerous at night for those, we are trying to do any structure protection we can but that's got to be balanced between lives."

Emergency evacuations were underway in the Cashmere Hills after the fire jumped Dyers Pass Rd into Victoria Park.

Police were also evacuating properties on Long Hurst Terrace, off Dyers Pass Road, and warning residents to leave their properties immediately.

Displaced residents could head to the welfare centre at Halswell Library, Halswell Rd and the Nga Hau e Wha Marae was also open.

Anyone not able to evacuate themselves or concerned about a flare up which may threaten lives or property should call 111.

Helicopters and fixed planes were stood down for the night, but fire crews will remain on the ground overnight.

Kordia CEO Scott Bartlett said the company's transmission site at the summit of Sugarloaf is under "significant threat" from the fire.

The transmission site provides several services, including television and radio for the Christchurch area.

Bartlett said the company was preparing for the worst.

Senior Sergeant Steve Bothamley said police would have extra patrols out overnight to assist those in the areas affected by the fires and provide reassurance to residents.

Police will also be checking in on those affected by an earlier power outages that affected more than 80,000 homes across the city.

Evacuations are happening in the following areas:

• Worsley Rd
• Hoon Hay Rd - from Cashmere Rd, and
• Kennedys Bush Rd - from Cashmere Rd.
• Dyers Pass Rd has also been evacuated from Sign of the Takahe
• Early Valley Rd

Road Closures

• Cashmere Rd is closed west of Kaiwara St through to Kennedys Bush Rd.
• Worsley Rd is closed
• Hoon Hay Valley Rd is closed
• Kennedys Bush Rd is closed form the roundabout with Rock Hill Drive. This includes the southbound cycle track
• Worsley Track from Worsley Rd is closed
• Dyers Pass Rd is closed between Hackthorne Rd to Governors Bay Rd. Use the Lyttelton Tunnel or Gebbies Pass as the alternate route
• Summit Rd is closed between Gebbies Pass and Rapaki Track
• Old Tai Tapu Rd is closed between Osterholts Rd and Early Valley Rd
• Early Valley Rd is closed
• Holmes Rd is closed.


Orion remains on full alert, with the rapidly changing fire posing a threat to power supply to the Port Hills and the greater city.

Health Advice

People have been told to stay indoors to avoid smoke inhalation.

Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health has advised that anyone suffering respiratory issues contact their GP.

"For the vast majority of people, the smoke will be unpleasant, but carries no risk to their health. However, smoke may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and airways. More serious symptoms include runny or sore eyes, dry or sore throat, sore nose, cough, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing.

"In healthy people, most symptoms disappear soon after exposure to smoke ends and do not cause long-term health problems."

Cigarette smokers, the elderly, children and those with heart disease, asthma or other lung disease are at greatest risk of harm from smoke inhalation.

"Avoid exposure where possible by staying indoors and closing windows and doors," he says.

SEE ALSO: Lianne Dalziel speaks with Larry Williams

A state of emergency was declared in Christchurch and Selwyn yesterday afternoon.

Mayors Lianne Dalziel and Sam Broughton made a joint decision in relation to the Port Hills fire.

This comes after up to 300 residents were evacuated yesterday afternoon after a worrying shift in wind direction.

"It is no longer just a significant rural fire on the boundary of the city. It is now a city issue with suburbs being evacuated."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said a city response was also required to ensure the safety and welfare of residents.

"Christchurch needs a multi-agency response given the seriousness of the situation. We need to be able to draw on all the resources possible to give our residents confidence in the ongoing response."

Selwyn District Mayor Sam Broughton said they acknowledged the "huge response effort" to so far.

"However this declaration recognises the seriousness of the situation, and this will allow us to provide all the assistance necessary to respond to the unfolding situation.

"The district and the city must work together to manage the situation and address the different challenges the fire is creating in each area."

Prime Minister Bill English told reporters at Parliament the development with the fires was concerning and it was a challenging situation.

"The Defence Forces are on standby to see what resources they could add but it does seem to be getting disturbingly close to houses and you've got some reasonably significant evacuations going on."

"We need to mobilise all the resources that are required to get that fire under control."

English said he was briefed by Brownlee after Englishs's meeting with the Pike River families.

He was told that evacuations were underway to several marae and the Defence Force was on standby.

Winds in Christchurch over the last three days have fanned the wild bush fires from the north-west and south-west but early this afternoon shifted to north-east winds.

The wind shift pushed the blaze into new unburnt vegetation and is now "not contained", Selwyn District Principal Rural Fire Officer Douglas Marshall said.

The worst-hit area now is Worsley Spur, which he admitted was "a setback".

Houses have been evacuated in the area. A large number of houses on the upper reaches of the suburb of Westmoreland have also been evacuated as firefighters rush to contain it.

"It's not contained, it's running. I wouldn't say it's out of control because we do have resources working on it but it is heavy material and once it's burning it is hard to stop," he said.

The objective is to contain the fires around that area tonight.

Houses on Kennedys Bush Rd and its intersecting streets are also now being evacuated - from Halswell Quarry up towards the end of Kennedys Bush Rd.

"Residents should leave their homes immediately and head to the Pioneer Recreation Centre for further information," a police statement said at 5.15pm.

"We thank residents for co-operating with emergency services at this time"

Fourteen helicopters with monsoon buckets are dropping water on the worst areas.

Two fixed-wing aircraft are dropping retardant to block the fires from spreading, but Marshall said stocks of retardant are running low in New Zealand and more will need to be rushed into the country.

As of 4pm, no more houses had been lost to fire, Marshall said.

In the Early Valley area, where one house was lost earlier in the fires, it has now been contained.

Governors Bay which saw more than 100 residents evacuated last night, is now under control, with a containment line being made by heavy machinery.

The focus right now and into the evening is the Worsley Spur area, Marshall said.

"Our priorities again are life which is obviously critical and dwelling protection is key," he said.

Christchurch Adventure Park was evacuated earlier today.

Vegetation on its southern side may have been lost over the last few hours, Douglas feared, but the chairlift had not been damaged.

The hills and gullies are making it difficult for firefighting, and means a lot of it needs to be done from the air.

Police are assisting the Fire Service with evacuations of Worsleys Rd and intersecting streets due to a "concerning wind shift".

Worlseys Rd is closed from Cashmere Rd, and police have said that residents may be permitted access but will need to report to police at the cordons.

If anyone has any concerns, they are advised to speak to police at the cordons, or phone emergency services.

The intersections in Christchurch affected by the power outage are now all functioning properly again.

It is understood that the top half of the suburb of Westmoreland has also been evacuated.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Christchurch Transport Operations Centre said emergency services are "working hard to contain these fires and coming up against many challenges".

"We are pleading with the public not to rubberneck in the immediate area of the Port Hills fires to get photos and videos. Residents affected in the area are struggling to access their properties easily and residents who are affected by road closures need to have ready access if needed."

The Christchurch Civil Defence Emergency Operations Centre was reactivated late this afternoon to help with further evacuations as the fires moved closer to properties.

The council is the lead agency for management and communication around the fire.
In a press released just before 6pm they said evacuated residents were being directed to various welfare centres.

Firefighters were at the Christchurch Adventure Park, but the fire had not yet reached the village.

People should stay away from the hills to allow emergency services easy access and allow swift evacuation.

"If people are worried about their safety they should to leave their homes. If widespread evacuation is needed, emergency services will inform residents directly."