Port Hills fire day four: FENZ and Adventure Park update

2:58 pm on 17 February 2024

The Christchurch Adventure Park is aiming to reopen by Easter, chairperson Maurice Noone says.

Fire and Emergency (FENZ) Incident Controller Steve Kennedy, Christchurch City Council, the police and Noone provided an update on the Port Hills fire on Saturday afternoon.

The large fire, which broke out on Wednesday, is being tackled by 16 crews. Up to seven helicopters are also fighting the blaze from above.

Firefighters are today focusing on creating a 50m-wide "cold area" around the 24km-long perimeter of the fire.

Noone said that Adventure Park staff had been on an "interesting journey" in recent days.

On Wednesday when the fire was at its peak, they "feared the worst", he said.

"We had visions of 2017 all over again."

But when they surveyed the fires on Thursday morning, although there was extensive tree damage it appeared the chair lift, most trails and equipment had emerged unscathed and things were looking "considerably better" than they first feared.

Maurice Noone, chairperson of Christchurch Adventure Park - speaking on day 4 of Port Hills fire response

Christchurch Adventure Park chairperson Maurice Noone at Saturday's media briefing. Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

Noone said they still needed to be a little bit cautious because there was a process to go through - after getting access to the park - to check all equipment.

He acknowledged the Adventure Park staff - many of whom had experienced the 2017 fires. "It was a hard time for them to revisit that again."

And he paid tribute to the efforts of FENZ and police. "The way they've worked together with us - it's been outstanding.

"Hopefully we've managed to avoid the worst of it."

The park was planning to reopen by Easter, he said.

"We're optimistic if we can line up all the certifiers... and that's a big if... to check all the lines, the lift, it could be in the next month or two. We're targeting Easter and everyone tells me don't say that... but we've got to set ourselves a goal."

They had received "overwhelming" messages of support from around the region, the country and the world, many expressing disbelief about the timing of the latest blaze, almost seven years to the day since the 2017 fire.

An international mountain biking competition had been planned but it was too early to comment on whether that would go ahead.

When evacuated on Wednesday afternoon he said he had a "sense of disbelief" and it immediately brought back memories of 2017.

But there had been some "learnings" from the previous fire, and the plans to clear the hill and evacuate the village had worked well.

The chair lift was not turned off. Chairs were removed on Wednesday evening, but wires continued to rotate so that the chairlift machinery did not overheat. This continued until the power went off on Thursday evening.

A new pump track at the bottom of the hill was unscathed.

Noone could not comment on the financial impact of the fire. The park had been trading "very well", and had a "huge" support base both locally and internationally, he said. "The zipline is a pretty special attraction for New Zealand and for Canterbury."

He also could not comment on future planting to prevent or contain fires in the Port Hills.

"That is not an area we have any influence over. We lease the property [from the landlord]... they'll make a call on what they will do... [but] we will form a view and have proactive discussions with them."

Some areas planned for new tracks had taken a "significant knock" and they were "back to the drawing board ... it's unlikely we would be back there in a hurry".

Hotspots still remain - FENZ

During the media briefing, FENZ Incident Controller Steve Kennedy said there were still hotspots on old "skid sites" - left over from forestry logging operations - up Worsleys Road, which needed heavy machinery to dig them out.

Tonight, drones would be sent up to map the fireground and identify further hotspots to work on ahead of more norwesters that are are expected to arrive on Sunday and persist until Monday.

Christchurch City Council fire controller Neville Riley said the local State of Emergency remained in place until further notice, and would give emergency services the power to evacuate people from homes and close roads if necessary.

Almost all residents who had been evacuated from their homes due to the fire had now been allowed to return home.

But with stronger winds expected on Sunday, there was a chance some would need to evacuate again, Kennedy said earlier on Saturday.

Riley said further evacuations were "the last thing we want to do" but the State of Emergency would enable them to do so if necessary.

On the closure of bike and walking trails on the Port Hills - including those around Victoria Park, Kennedys Bush and Halswell Park - he said it was for the safety of the public and because they were being used by fire responders.

He said they knew how popular those tracks were with public but there were "plenty of other tracks around".

FENZ 'pretty comfortable' with letting evacuees return home

FENZ's Steve Kennedy said they were "pretty comfortable" with letting evacuees move back into their homes, having himself been evacuated in the 2017 fires.

"I've lived and played in this area for 30 years and last time I was evacuated myself so to get people back in, it's really good."

FENZ crews were doing reassurance patrols every night so if there were any flare-ups, crews would be on hand, he said.

Kennedy asked bystanders to observe from a distance, as the Summit Road was narrow and water tankers needed to be able to access the fire site at regular intervals.

There was still a possibility of flare-ups, he added.

"It can look like it's out, and then we get the wind in behind it and it can spark up and flare off again."

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