16 Feb 2024

Port Hills fires: mayors question use of land for grazing and forestry

10:58 am on 16 February 2024
Christchurch Adventure Park - day 3 Port Hills fire

The Christchurch Adventure Park on Friday. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

As fire fighters strive to contain a blaze on the Port Hills, questions are being asked about land use there in the long term.

A large fire broke out on 14 February in the Worsley area, and covered 650 hectares.

As of this morning, the fire was yet to be contained and Emergency Management Minister Mark Mitchell said it would take weeks to "get the fire completely out".

At a press conference this morning, Christchurch City mayor Phil Mauger and Selwyn mayor Sam Broughton were questioned about the use of the Port Hills for forestry and grazing and whether the long grass needed to be cut.

Mauger said he had been up in a helicopter to survey the fireground. "Where it's been grazed, it doesn't burn the same as where it's long grass," he said.

"[But] we do want to get the Port Hills back to the way they were and unfortunately [part of that is] long grass," he said.

Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton and Christchurch City Mayor Phil Mauger

Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton and Christchurch City Mayor Phil Mauger at the press conference on 16 February. Photo: RNZ

Broughton said there had been some stubble burn-offs in his district to reduce the risk of fire.

"There have been a number of changes since the last set of fires seven years ago."

People had made "sensible" changes to their own homes in terms of planting, he said, but there needed to be "a wider community conversation" about pine forestry blocks and whether forestry was an appropriate use of the land.

Conservationists had already been looking at tactical replanting of the Port Hills to lessen or prevent damaging fires.

In December, Summit Road Society secretary Marie Gray said they were one of many community groups committed to cloaking the hills in green and preserving wildlife.

But fires remained front of mind for planters.

"We're looking at 'green firebreaks'- planting low-flammable native species, or 'grass firebreaks', where you use short grass to basically slow a fire down," Gray said.

Low-flammable plant species natural to the hills include tree fuchsia and the New Zealand broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis).

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