Port Hills fire day 3: Still burning but weather expected to aid firefighting efforts

9:32 pm on 16 February 2024
For a third day, firefighters continue to battle a 650-hectare vegetation fire at Christchurch's Port Hills.

For a third day, firefighters continue to battle the vegetation fire at Christchurch's Port Hills. Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

Three days on and the Port Hills fire is still burning but a good weather window is keeping fire crews hopeful about containing most of the blaze over the weekend.

The fire that started on Wednesday afternoon has destroyed a container home and forced 110 properties to be evacuated at one stage.

All evacuees have now been allowed home.

Firefighting efforts

About 70 percent of the large fire has been contained and firefighters are working hard to bring the perimeters in.

On Thursday, the 650-hectare blaze was burning within a 14km perimeter. The fire has not grown in size since this morning.

For a third day, firefighters continue to battle a 650-hectare vegetation fire at Christchurch's Port Hills.

Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

Incident controller Dave Stackhouse said firefighters had made progress today despite trying conditions.

"We have favourable conditions until the north-westerly comes in on Sunday, so we're going to make the most of it by getting as much of this fire knocked down over the next two days as possible," Stackhouse said.

"What this means is we'll have a lot of trucks and crews moving around the roads and tracks of the Port Hills, so we really need people to stay away from the area this weekend so our operations aren't impeded."

But strong winds could also flare up hotspots, Stackhouse said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Port Hills fire - day three - Kennedys Bush

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Earlier in the day residents only had controlled access to Worsleys Road, up to number 358.

Returning residents have been asked to remain vigilant for flare-ups, and be prepared to evacuate again at short notice, including having a bag ready to go with clothes, medication or anything else they may need, and a plan for pets and animals.

Summit Road resident Viv Johnston went through the 2017 Port Hills wildfire, and said she did not sleep at all the first night because the fire got so close to her home.

The fire was looking a lot more under control than the first night, Johnston said.

Christchurch Adventure Park

Christchurch Adventure Park - day 3 Port Hills fire

Christchurch Adventure Park as seen on day three of the Port Hills fire. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Staff from Christchurch Adventure Park (CAP) were allowed onsite today to start assessing the extent of the fire damage in the park.

CAP chairperson Maurice Noone said the damage was less than was first feared.

"The outcome is considerably different to the fires of 2017 and will likely see the park fully reopen with all current attractions within the next few months.

"While it is very early days and a full inspection is still required, the initial impression is that the damage is largely confined to new growth following the 2017 fires and to one area within the park. Pleasingly, the village and its immediate surrounds, the chairlift and the ziplines all appear to have escaped any significant damage."

He said full inspections would paint a clearer picture of the damage.

Coastal Waitaki fire ban

Coastal Waitaki will ban outdoor fires from Monday morning until further notice.

Port Hills fire - day three - Kennedys Bush

Kennedys Bush. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Fire and Emergency district manager Phil Marsh said there was a great deal of very dry vegetation that was a significant fire risk, prompting the change to a prohibited fire season.

He said the westerly winds forecast for the rest of the summer and into autumn would further dry out vegetation.

That increased the likelihood of a fire starting and rapidly becoming difficult to control.

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