14 Feb 2017

Port Hills fires: 'Everything around the house is charcoal'

9:12 pm on 14 February 2017

The two huge fires blazing near Christchurch over the past two days have caused heartache for local residents.

One of the fires on the Port Hills, as seen from Governors Bay fire station

One of the fires on the Port Hills, as seen from Governors Bay fire station. Photo: Supplied / Howard Aschoff

Both fires are still burning but contained.

The Early Valley Road fire destroyed a house and damaged another, and is estimated to have burned through 150 hectares and killed some livestock. Parts of the fire crossed the Summit Road towards Governors Bay.

A second fire near Marley Hill is contained on the city side of the Summit Road.

The fires have claimed one life, after a helicopter helping to fight the fire crashed this afternoon, killing the pilot.

Pilots fighting the fires have finished for the day, but will return at first light.

A helicopter fights the fire near Governors Bay in Christchurch's Port Hills.

A helicopter fights the fire near Governors Bay in Christchurch's Port Hills. Photo: Supplied: Howard Aschoff

The city council said ground crews would manage the fires overnight, ensuring they did not spread, or go near people's homes.

One house has been confirmed destroyed by the fire, with another structure destroyed and one other house slightly damaged.

Twenty-four houses had to be evacuated overnight as fire crews struggled to bring the twin fires under control.

About 100 people are involved in fighting both fires, with 10 helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft involved as well as several tankers.

Selwyn District principal rural fire officer Douglas Marshall said it could take 72 hours to bring the fires under control.

"If we're not finished by then, we will continue."

A patrol would stay at the Marley Rd fire all night, while three fire crews would remain at the Early Valley Rd fire, Mr Marshall said.

Road blocks would stay in place on Summit Rd between the Sign of the Kiwi and Gebbies Pass and on Old Tai Tapu Rd.

Christchurch police have reassured Governor's Bay residents they won't be evacuated, and their homes are not under threat from the fires.

About 600 hectares in total of vegetation had burned across the two fires.

Firefighters had no idea yet what started the fires, Mr Marshall said.

Flames from fire on the Port Hills near Christchurch

Flames from the Port Hills fire overnight. Photo: Supplied / Derian Wall

Family home surrounded by 'charcoal'

Sierra Bayley, who lived with her family on Early Valley Road, said the fire started yesterday in a paddock on their property.

She did not know what caused it but said it spread rapidly.

"We couldn't drive down the hill, so we had to go through other people's paddocks and drive up on to the summit road to leave."

She had been given the go-ahead to return to the house to collect some belongings, and said she did not know how the house survived.

"We saw some photos early today and it was pretty crazy because literally everything around the house is just charcoal.

"Now we are hoping we can get and rescue the photos - maybe a pillow or two," she said.

On the other side of the hill in Governors Bay, residents faced another day of nervously watching the Marleys Hill fire, to see whether north-west winds would continue to blow it in their direction.

Amanda Jennings and her husband took turns staying home with their two children today after the bay's school was closed due to the smoke.

Ash from the fire was falling like snow this morning, she said.

The family slept in the lounge last night in case they had to leave.

"From our deck we can see up onto the ridge and it was spectacular in the dark", said Ms Jennings.

Another Governors Bay resident, Debbie Prior, said she had never seen a fire that big.

"Two o'clock this morning my son woke me up and up on the hill up on Summit Road we could see flames, so they must have been really high."

The gusty north-west wind was forecast to turn north-east tomorrow, which the fire service has said would provide more favourable firefighting conditions.

About 30 properties had electricity cut when fire damaged power poles. Contractors for lines company Orion will replace the poles when it is safe to carry out the work.

Helicopters with monsoon buckets tackle the Port Hills fire.

Helicopters battle the fire this morning. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

Roads are closed in Port Hills due to the fires.

  • Dyers Pass Road closed between Hackthorne and Governors Bay Roads. Use the Lyttelton Tunnel or Gebbies Pass as the alternate route.
  • Summit Road closed between Gebbis Pass and the Rapaki Track
  • Old Tai Tapu Road closed between Osterholts Road and State Highway 75
  • Early Valley Road closed
  • Holmeswood Rise closed

The new Christchurch Adventure Park in the Port Hills is also closed.

If you witnessed the fire and would like to share pictures or video with us, please email them to: iwitness@radionz.co.nz

One of the fires on the Port Hills, as seen from Governors Bay fire station

One of the fires on the Port Hills, as seen from Governors Bay fire station Photo: Supplied / Howrd Aschoff