16 Feb 2017

Port Hills fire: 'That house that just caught fire ... that's our house'

12:32 pm on 16 February 2017

A man who watched the Port Hills fire raze his family home this morning says he doesn't want to believe the devastation is real.

Henry Reese, 22, and his family were evacuated from the home his parents have lived in for 25 years about 3pm yesterday and saw their neighbours' home burn to the ground about 6pm.

When daylight broke this morning RNZ was there as Mr Reese watched the Worsleys Road house go up in flames at about 7.45am.

"That house that just caught fire about 10 mins ago is our house," he said. "It survived the night and then no choppers [were] up there in the morning and obviously a little fire started up and there was no-one there [to protect it]."

"Right now it looks like our house is getting destroyed. It's a bit of a shame, quite a big shame… It's quite a beautiful family house."

On the phone to his family, Mr Reese told them if they arrived quickly they would be able to see the last part of their house before the flames finished it off.

"It's still hard to believe. I barely trust myself that that's our house but it certainly looks that way. I don't want to believe it."

"Even when we were evacuated, we didn't think this would be the last time in this house. Can't believe it," he said.

Officials confirmed this morning 11 houses have been destroyed in the huge blaze across the Port Hills. Three of the homes were on Worsleys Road and two on Hoon Hay Valley Road.

Follow RNZ's live coverage here

Overnight, two main fires merged into one large blaze spreading over 2000 hectares.

Police this morning evacuated homes downhill of the Sign of the Takahe on Dyers Pass Road.

Brian Ellwood, who lives on Dyers Pass Rd near the Sign of the Takahe, was told to leave home about 4.30am.

He and his wife put their two cats, three chickens and two children in their cars and parked up at a petrol station.

"All the important things, we got," he said.

About 15 helicopters were being used to fight the blaze. More than 200 firefighters were due to be on the ground.

Selwyn district principal rural fire officer Douglas Marshall said the effort is focused on Dyers Pass Road and the Worsley Spur, the areas of greatest threat, and most of the helicopter work is happening there.

Firefighters had been trying to make as much headway as possible before north-easterly winds pick up.

No rain is forecast for Christchurch today, temperatures are due to reach 21 degrees and north-easterly winds with gusts of 40kph are forecast.

'Trees exploding'

Police inspector Derek Erasmus was on duty overnight and the force of the fire overnight was frightening.

"Trees exploding, long lines of fire ... across hillsides. Looking at what the fire service were doing, an incredibly difficult and dangerous job for them."

He said 85 extra army and police staff were brought in overnight to help evacuate people.

Helicopters with monsoon buckets and ground crews are tackling a blaze close to a house at the top of Worsleys Road.

Helicopters with monsoon buckets and ground crews are tackling a blaze close to a house at the top of Worsleys Road. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

About 100 houses were without electricity power this morning. Lines company Orion said the focus today was on ensuring the power supply to water pumping stations near the fire to keep the water pressure up.

Two major pylon circuits that cross the Port Hills are out but an underground loop cable commissioned in the last year is keeping up the power supply to the city, it said.

Governors Bay School and Cashmere Primary School are closed. Cashmere principal Gavin Burn said for families with a lot going on the decision was to create certainty, so they know where their children are.

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

Fire crews planning their next move.

Fire crews working out the strategy for tackling the blaze. Photo: Christchurch City Council

Christchurch civil defence controller Dave Adamson told Morning Report about 450 houses have been evacuated involving up to 1000 people having left their homes.

Parts of Cashmere Hills, Westmorland, Cracroft and Early Valley Road were evacuated last night.

Flames leap close to a house in the Port Hills.

Flames leap close to a house in the Port Hills. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Rankin

A fire ban has been brought in from South Canterbury to Hurunui as resources are put towards tackling the Port Hills blaze.

Police on the scene as Port Hills fire continues to burn.

Police on the scene as the fire burns and evacuations continue. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

PM, Civil Defence Minister in Christchurch

Prime Minister Bill English has cancelled his scheduled events today to fly to Christchurch.

Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said the situation was "getting pretty serious".

"The requirement to get that fire out is even more pressing than at any point in the last couple of days."

Declaring a state of emergency had been "a little slow" but once it had been done, the civil defence response was okay, he told Morning Report. Firefighters and others are doing great work in dangerous conditions.

"The people out there fighting the fire are very brave people."

A local state of emergency was declared by Christchurch City Council and Selwyn District Council yesterday evening.

Mr Brownlee met the mayors of Selwyn and Christchurch for a briefing on the emergency response.

A fire engine speeds through Christchurch as smoke billows from the Port Hills fire.

A fire engine speeds through Christchurch as smoke billows from the Port Hills fire. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

'It's just gone ballistic'

Helicopter pilot Alan Beck, who was in the air for over 14 hours yesterday, said the conditions were terrible.

"It's just gone ballistic - we're losing house after house," Mr Beck said.

"It really is a controlled disaster at the moment."

There were enough air and ground resources to fight the fire, but crews were struggling to get enough water.

"Down on the flat there's water everywhere but it's not deep enough," he said.

"We're robbing all the swimming pools we can... It's quite a desperate situation here."

Aerial crews stood down at about 8.30pm last night, after smoke and dark made it too dangerous to continue.

Mr Beck said the terrain also made for difficult flying.

"There's transmission wires, power wires, the gondola - we've been working in a nightmare of wires up here so it's been one hell of a job."

Paul Harding Brown and his wife Deborah left their Kennedys Bush Road house twice - first on Monday night and again last night - and were waiting at the bottom of the road to be allowed back home.

The fire on Monday night was one hill over from their home. Last night it was 200-300m from the end of the road.

Mr Harding Brown couldn't see his house from where he was waiting this morning. "We just have to wait it out and see what happens."

  • Homes razed as Port Hills fire spreads
  • LIVE - Port Hills fire: Day 3
  • Port Hills fires: 'Everything around the house is charcoal'
  • Houses destroyed as large fires blaze across Hawke's Bay