Port Hills fire: Dampening 30 identified hotspots the priority - FENZ

2:30 pm on 19 February 2024

More than 100 firefighters are still working to fully extinguish a vegetation blaze on Christchurch's Port Hills, but resources will be scaled back in the coming days.

A 650-hectare blaze broke out on the hills last week and crews have been working to get it under control ever since.

Incident controller Steve Kennedy said 40 hotspots were still being dampened down.

There had been a change in weather conditions on Monday, with it slightly cooler for crews but winds were "blowing things around a bit for us".

Plans had been made for firefighting operations through until Thursday.

Firefighters continue their efforts on Saturday as they work to dampen down remaining hot spots and create a buffer zone around the 24km perimeter fire ground in Christchurch's Port Hills. Pictured left to right, Lee Reihana (City Care firefighter), John Hytongue (City Care firefighter), and Stephen Robson (Peel Forest Volunteer firefighter)

Fire crews work to put out hot spots on the Port Hills. Photo: CHRIS SKELTON

There were 120 people still on the fireground, but Tuesday was likely to see numbers reduce by 30.

Kennedy confirmed the fire was contained, but not yet out.

Firefighters came down from the hill looking "weary" and "shattered" but FENZ was ensuring they were well rested and considering their own welfare.

The New Zealand Army was not only helping with firefighting but also providing breakfast, lunch and dinner to those on the ground.

Police forward commander Roy Appley said people were asked to still stay away from the area for the rest of the week.

FENZ Incident Controlle Steve Kennedyr Steve Kennedy

FENZ Incident Controller Steve Kennedy. Photo: RNZ/ Nathan McKinnon

It was not the place to come to have a look while cordons remained in place, he said.

Kennedy thanked supporting agencies for the "huge team effort" that had helped FENZ get the fire to where it was today.

As the briefing was ending, the wind was starting to get up.

It was buffeting the tents at the hub, bending trees and sending wrap at the neighboring construction site flapping.

Army base at Worsleys Rd - day 6 Port Hills fire

The Army's base at the Worsleys Road hub. Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

Public drones affect firefighting time

Kennedy told Morning Report day crews had been sent back up shortly after 7am.

Getting on top of those before any change in weather and wind levels was a priority for the morning, Kennedy said.

Members of the public flying their own drones in the airspace above the hills had been problematic, and helicopters have had to be grounded on multiple occasions, including on Sunday.

Kennedy urged people to refrain from flying drones above the Port Hills - as well as the Waikari Valley where another vegetation fire was being fought.

It hindered their ability to attack the fire from the air as helicopters could not continue to work while drones were flying around.

It meant "numerous hours" of firefighting time was lost and it took time for helicopters to fly back to base and return to site.

Kennedy said he was aware of one family in the Summit Road area who had not yet returned home but said they were the only evacuees who were not back in their homes.

Resources from the Nelson and Marlborough areas had been brought in to help firefighting resources, and crews from the West Coast were coming today to help, he said.

He hoped crews would be well on top of hot spots by the end of the day, depending on the severity of the winds predicted.

Parts of Canterbury are currently under an orange strong wind warning.

Metservice meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane said the Canterbury plains and Christchurch could see winds of up to 90 km/h.

Top speeds would be in the most exposed areas.

Wind levels could increase late morning or into the early afternoon, she said.

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