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Port Hills fire: Helicopters grounded for the night; blaze still burns

Author
Pierre Nixon,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Feb 2024, 3:17pm

Port Hills fire: Helicopters grounded for the night; blaze still burns

Author
Pierre Nixon,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Feb 2024, 3:17pm

A state of local emergency has been declared for Christchurch City, including Banks Peninsula, and the Selwyn District due to the impacts of the Port Hills fire which is burning uncontrolled.

Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger and Selwyn District Council Mayor Sam Broughton made the declaration at 6.13pm.

Fire and Emergency NZ crews are battling the large fire with up to 12 helicopters at times, 25 trucks and about 130 firefighters.

The Princess Margaret Hospital and homes in the area are being evacuated.

All residents of Worsleys Rd and Worsleys Spur have been told by authorities to “evacuate now”.

An evacuation centre has been set up at Te Hapua Halswell Library and Community Centre, and at the Lincoln Community Centre for people who live closer to Selwyn.

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

Te Whatu Ora National Public Health Service has also issued a public health warning for smoke from the fire.

“Air around this location is smoky and there is potential that people who are sensitive to smoke - such as those with heart or lung conditions, people who are pregnant, young children and the elderly - may experience symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath or eye, nose and throat irritation.”

People affected by the smoke should close windows and doors and reduce outdoor exercise. Those concerned about their health can call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

The fire was first reported at 2.15pm.

“The public is urged to stay away from the area to allow crews to work,” said the spokesperson.

A number of power outages have been reported across the city.

According to Orion, outages are in Aranui, Avondale, Avonside, Bromley, Burwood, City, Ferrymead, Kirwee, Linwood, Opawa, Phillipstown, Richmond, Rolleston, South New Brighton, Southshore, St Albans, Travis, Wainoni, Waltham, Westhaven, and Woolston.

Fenz earlier advised that Canterbury has been put under extreme fire danger today.

NZME staffer Matthew Lowe lives in Halswell with a view of the hills.

Earlier this afternoon, he could see “a bit of smoke drifting across” but that had “increased substantially” since.

”A couple of sites have ignited and every now and then you can see the flames,” he said.

By 3.40pm he could see the fire moving down the hill, rather than across as it had been earlier.

Lowe could see monsoon buckets being emptied onto the blaze, which he said was “really intensifying”.

“With helicopters in the air already, the public is also warned to not fly drones anywhere near the fire ground as this will mean the helicopters will have to be grounded, which will seriously impact our ability to control the spread of the fire.”

Hoon Hay resident Matthew Comins said he could see the “massive fire” from his property.

It is understood helicopter pilots have been using a community swimming pool at Halswell and private pools to fill monsoon buckets.

The fire can be seen across many parts of Canterbury.

The fire can be seen from Living Springs near Governors Bay. Photo / Shaun Trowbridge
The fire can be seen from Living Springs near Governors Bay. Photo / Shaun Trowbridge

Port Hills fire in February 2017

Worsleys Rd, where Fenz said today’s fire was reported, was at the epicentre of the devastating 2017 fires.

Wildfires broke out in the Port Hills, burning through a total of 1600ha in 2017.

The blaze destroyed nine homes and damaged another five.

It took 66 days before the fires were fully extinguished.

One life was lost - helicopter pilot Steve Askin, a war hero wounded in a five-hour shootout in 2011 after the Taliban stormed the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul.

Several homes on the Port Hills road above Christchurch were razed to the ground during the fires which raged seven years ago.

“Our family home for 20 years, it’s all just gone,” Simon Grace told the Herald at the time as he sifted through its smouldering remains.

“It’s not easy. It’s not till you see the extent of it with your own eyes that it really hits you.”

Firefighters are battling a blaze on the Port Hills in Christchurch.
Firefighters are battling a blaze on the Port Hills in Christchurch.

Askin joined the fight to put out the rampant fires and was on his way to refill his chopper’s monsoon bucket when it encountered turbulence and wind shear.

A side window was dislodged into the cabin and flew out of an open door. The chopper crashed soon afterwards.

The 38-year-old father-of-two was named as the winner of the Herald’s New Zealander of the Year People’s Choice Award for 2017.

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