Port Hills fire: 1000 people forced to evacuate

For the second time, James Frost has lost a home to disaster in Christchurch. 

He said he found out at 11pm on Wednesday that the fire had reached his evacuated home.

Mr Frost also lost a home in one of the Christchurch earthquakes. He told The AM Show that he was fortunate at the time, because he was due to move house anyway, so he was only homeless for a week.

He said he and his flatmates decided to evacuate themselves and the experience was "pretty bad" and left them feeling "quite alone."

He said that while most police officers were good, one of his flatmates was left in tears because of a police officer who "didn't have the people skills to deal with the scenario".

The fire spans 2000 hectares (Civil Defence/Supplied)
The fire spans 2000 hectares (Civil Defence/Supplied)

More than 1000 people have had to evacuate due to a massive blaze that has ripped through through Christchurch's Port Hills.

Evacuations are continuing on the Port Hills on Thursday morning as the fires continue to burn.

A total of 450 properties have been officially evacuated, affecting an estimated 1000 people.

Police went door-knocking at the downhill area of the Sign of the Takehe as far as Kiteroa Place. Others have self-evacuated as the fire spread overnight.

The fire now spans around 2000 hectares across the hills, with latest reports that it has spread to the harbour side of Sugarloaf.

Seven houses are believed to have been damaged by the fire since Wednesday, on Early Valley Road and Worsley Road.

Residents were forced to grab what they could and flee on Wednesday night.

Flames tore toward her home 

Neighbours grouped on the street and watched as flames raced toward their homes on Wednesday night.

Penny Cushman said she could only watch as the huge fire came toward their home on Kiteroa Place in Cashmere.

"They looked to be coming down the hill to our house, about 150 metres high, just charging down from above. We knew it was just trees between us and the fire, so we left.

"When we got to the bottom, I looked up, and it looked like the whole hill was ablaze.

"It was just horrible. All these people were just standing on the streets with their hands over their mouths just absolutely shocked."

On Thursday morning, Penny was surprised that no one stopped her walking back up to her home. When she got there, the house was still standing.

"The sense of relief was just amazing.

"To see the house still standing – the relief is just unbelievable. The relief is incredible."

She said the helicopter pilots have been doing an amazing job, and "they deserve all the respect they can possibly have".

Evacuated the day after moving in

Jasmine Peate-Garratt was evacuated from her home– after moving in just the day before.

Speaking to The AM Show, she said it's hard to know what is going to happen, and she is overwhelmed by how big and out of control the fire is.

"It seems like it's got out of control pretty fast. It's just been constant helicopters going overhead," she said.

She was asked to evacuate her home at midday on Wednesday, and is now staying with friends.

Anxious wait beyond the evacuation zone

A Cashmere resident who lives outside the evacuation area says she is mainly concerned about the speed at which the fire is travelling.

"I'm feeling OK at this point, but pretty devastated, really, when you look at the damage out there."

She said they are keeping a close eye on the fire and are ready to go if need be.

"We gave an emergency kit ready to take with us and personal things in case we are gone for a while.

"We have cats locked inside, cat cages ready [and] the dog locked in his crate, ready to go."

Better safe than sorry 

Resident Garth Hammond told RadioLIVE when his family heard there were evacuations near where they lived, they immediately started packing - even though they weren't in the evacuation zone.

"They were evacuating the top of Kennedy's Bush Rd last night and we live down the bottom, and my wife went home from work early and packed up all our camping gear and packed up our boat and fishing gear," he said.

"We grabbed the photo albums and the hard drives, and she came and met me at work on the way home."

So many people were fleeing that their quiet, rural street "was like a main road", Mr Hammond says.

"For us it was just unreal. It was surreal. But to look back across from the city now and see it all burning, and you can see the flames and you can see flashing lights and all the rest of it... it's been three days now.

"It's quite scary. It's just another thing for the people of Christchurch, after all the earthquakes and all the stress and everything that people have been through."

For Mr Hammond, the important thing is that his family and his neighbours are safe.

"The rest of it can just burn," he said.

Offers of help pouring in

One woman's request for help was answered within minutes, thanks to a Facebook group.

People with spare rooms for evacuees are posting on Evacuation Housing. There are also offers of paddocks and kennels for animals that have also been moved from the evacuation zone.

A woman posted at 9.09am on Wednesday saying that she was facing potential evacuation and needed help with her pets – including an old dog and cat. "We will let the chooks out of the coop if we need to go", she said.

Within one minute, someone had offered to take the animals. Within five minutes, there were three offers of help for the animals and someone had offered to provide a room and transport.

Robert Read, who set up the page, said "offers [to help] keep flooding in". He told The AM Show he's had only a few hours sleep because he's moderating the page and so many people have been posting to it.

Several fires have raged since Monday, merging into one mammoth blaze overnight on Wednesday which is covering more than 1850 hectares.

While police and the Defence Force are going door-to-door to evacuate, anyone concerned should self-evacuate, police advise.


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