Port Hills fire: Evacuated resident says they've been 'very wary for a few months'

2:53 pm on 15 February 2024
Port Hills resident Dominique Leeming

Dominique Leeming and her dogs after they had fled their home in the Port Hills on Wednesday. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Ike Houghton's property burnt down in the 2017 Port Hills fire. That is not the case.

A resident who has evacuated from her Port Hills property for the second time in seven years has been worried all summer of another repeat of 2017.

Dominique Leeming was working at home on Wednesday afternoon when her partner came home from the grocery shopping and told her he could see a fire as he made his way up Dyers Pass Road in Cashmere.

The couple are among 80 households in the Christchurch area who have had to pack up quickly and leave their homes as firefighters battle to contain it for a second day.

Another 30 properties in the Selwyn District have also been evacuated.

It soon became obvious to Leeming and her partner that the fire was a serious threat. The couple saw huge billowing smoke and flames heading their way before they evacuated.

"So that's when we knew and we walked up to the end of Worsleys Road and could see the flames coming up towards our neighbour's house. So we went and had a chat with them and went back and packed everything up and loaded up two cars and got everything we could out."

Leeming has lived in the house for nine years.

She said in 2017 the fire got to just over the road so she was hoping that would be the outcome again this time round.

"Those hills are so ridiculously dry at the moment. We've been very wary for a few months now and worried this might happen and hoping it wouldn't."

She described the experience seven years ago as a very stressful time which had meant being away from the property for two weeks.

"It's stressful and worrying, but we're very thankful. We talked a lot to the fire crews at the Sign of the Kiwi before we left last night and we're very thankful, they're there doing a wonderful job."

Another resident, Ike Houghton, told an RNZ reporter this morning he was collecting some of his favourite possessions as he looked to evacuate his property.

Port Hills resident Ike Houghton was evacuated from his Worsleys Road home.

Port Hills resident Ike Houghton leaves his property. Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

Vikki Pflaum's house was destroyed in the 2017 blaze and she had moved back into her new house on Worsleys Rd just five weeks ago when she and her husband, Doug, were forced to evacuate again.

She said she was doing OK on Wednesday until the police came to the door.

"I could see the flames from my bedroom window and I was praying it would be OK and then when the police were at the door then everything just hit me and it was retraumatising from the last time. I lost the plot a little bit at that stage."

She said she told police she wouldn't go because emergency services had not saved her property last time. However, tradesmen working at the house helped to reassure her.

She said the police officers were very understanding. So she rescued her photos and did not worry about taking anything else.

Pflaum said it was "unbelievable" how many things seemed to be a repeat of what happened in 2017.

"It's just unreal."

While she could see flames very close to at least one house it was fortunate that the wind on Wednesday afternoon turned to norwest which meant the fire took a different path up towards the top of the hill.

She said there have been more fire crews on deck this time and there has also been a good flow of information to affected residents.

"We can see far more fire crews than we ever did on the last fire so that is quite reassuring."

Another resident, Luke Menzies, who has been forced from his home, said his heart was racing when he had to evacuate.

He said a police officer came to his house and said he and his girlfriend had to leave on Wednesday afternoon.

"My heart was racing, I didn't really know what to do.

"Dad said get photos of everything, get all the valuable stuff so I had to do that, I got most of the important stuff."

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A boy, Zak, told RNZ he was away on school camp and was delivered home by his friend's family.

"When I got home it just started really. It was pretty scary and it was confusing really."

Meanwhile, Emergency Response Minister Mark Mitchell inspected the scene via a helicopter today and had a stern message for anyone considering flying a drone in the area.

"You put the pilots in those helicopters and those fixed wings in extreme danger and number two, they actually have to ground the aircraft and it interferes with the fighting of that fire.

"So anyone who thinks they're going to put a drone up or interfere with our firefighters and first responders, those actions will be met with serious consequences."

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