Port Hills blaze: Live updates

  • Eleven houses were destroyed by the Port Hills blaze
  • 450 homes evacuated in the Port Hills - affecting about 1000 residents
  • States of emergency were declared by Christchurch and Selwyn councils
  • 14 helicopters and three planes were fighting the fires on Thursday
  • Health warning issued to Christchurch residents as smoke billows across the city
  • Cashmere Primary School, Cashmere Early Learning Centre and Kidsfirst Kindergarten are closed on Thursday, while Governors Bay School is open as normal
  • Te Hāpua Halswell Centre looked after evacuees
  • About 128 homes were without power
  • A number of roads are closed - more info
Christchurch map
(Civil Defence)

11:30pm: Rural fire services will have three crews with 15 staff combat the fire throughout the night, according to Christchurch Civil Defence.

NZ Fire Service will have three crews with three tankers and 21 firefighters operating.

Additional crews will remain on standby in case of flare-ups.

10:25pm: Christchurch Civil Defence says about 1000 residents have been evacuated from affected areas.

The fire is largely contained to an area of 2075 hectares, though some areas are still out of control.

Mr Adamson says favourable weather conditions have helped the nearly 400 firefighters working to control the blaze on Thursday make progress.

Orion reports 126 customers are still without power, though some can expect to be restored overnight.

9:30pm: Mr Adamson says people should feel more comfortable tonight than last night. "Certainly the fire's contained. While in some areas it's still burning out of control, it's burning in areas that are a low-risk to the public," he says.

9:25pm: Mr Adamson says there are no major concerns about the weather overnight.

9:17pm: Mr Adamson says US Navy personnel will help run cordons, along with the Defence Force and police.

9:15pm: Civil defence controller Dave Adamson says firefighters are being strategically placed around the fire's perimeter overnight.

8:00pm: It is expected a large number of homes will have suffered damage from smoke, heat and fire. The number of damaged homes in total will not be known until the emergency has ended.

7:57pm: A detachable fire pod is being shipped from Wellington tonight, in addition to four already in use. The pods have an ultra high-pressure hose with a pointed nozzle that can pierce the ground and douse burning roots.

7:52pm: An Air Force C-130 Hercules strategic airlift aircraft left for Australia this afternoon to pick up five pallets of firefighting foam and other fire-retardant materials.

7:35pm: Police and Defence Force staff will be patrolling the cordon areas during the night helping to keep unoccupied properties secure and safe.

7:00pm: Christchurch Police say there's a special provision now in place to allow occupants within the cordon who have been granted specific access to exit and re-enter using the cordon points.

On exiting through the cordon point residents must log their name and provide photo identification.

They must also carry documentation proving their occupancy.

6:15pm: Crews from the US Coastguard ship Polar Star have been assisting, and offers of help from Australian firefighters were also being considered.

6:00pm: A total of 12 houses have now been destroyed, and there are fears weather changes will make things worse.

5:00pm: The wreckage of the Squirrel helicopter that crashed on Tuesday during fire-fighting operations has been recovered. The pilot died in the accident.

"The wreckage was in a steep gully under the Sugarloaf and conditions were hot and windy, making it challenging for the ground crew loading the wreckage, and the investigators," says investigator Steve Walker.

The wreckage was lifted out in five loads. It will be taken to Wellington for further analysis.

The air lift planned to begin on Thursday morning but had to wait for clearance to use the road which had been closed because of the threat from the bush fire.

port hills squirrel helicopter crash
The wreckage of the helicopter is removed (Supplied/Transport Accident Investigation Commission)

4:15pm: Professor of environmental science and bush fire specialist George Perry from the University of Auckland has told RadioLIVE the flammable vegetation is fuelling the fire.

"The Port Hills has got scrub on it with some of New Zealand's most flammable plants - things like gorse, pine trees and eucalyptus, and because it's been so hot and dry those fuels are very dry and super easy to combust," he says.

"Then if you add in quite strong winds that are changing directions it makes the fire extremely unpredictable and difficult to fight."

3:45pm: NIWA says some light rain is heading towards the Port Hills fire - but the amount will be minimal.

3:20pm: Newshub's political editor Patrick Gower flew over the fire and captured the devastation from the sky.

3:00pm: Evacuation centres in Christchurch have been housing those displaced by the Port Hills fires.

More than 1000 residents have been evacuated since the fires broke out on Monday afternoon.

Members of the community have been dropping supplies including bread, drinks, fruit and blankets to the evacuation centres.

2:45pm: Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Selwyn District Mayor Sam Broughton
 have hit back at Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee's comments that the state of emergency in the Port Hills fire was declared too late.

"I am satisfied that there is nothing that could have been done would have been done any differently had we called the state of emergency earlier," she said.

2:23pm: Christchurch Civil Defence has issued the latest road closures:

  • Cashmere Rd is closed at Hendersons Rd
  • Cashmere Rd is closed at Kaiwara St
  • Worsleys Rd is closed at Cashmere Rd
  • Hoon Hay Valley Rd is closed at Cashmere Rd
  • Kennedys Bush Road is closed at Cashmere Rd
  • Sutherland Road is closed at Cashmere Rd
  • Penruddock Rse is closed at Cashmere Rd
  • Worsleys Track from Worlseys Road is closed
  • Dyers Pass Road is closed between Hackthorne Road to Governors Bay Road. Use the Lyttelton Tunnel or Gebbies Pass as the alternate route.
  • Summit Road is closed between Gebbies Pass and Rapaki Track
  • Old Tai Tapu Road is closed between Osterholts Road and Early Valley Road
  • Early Valley Road is closed at Old Tai Tapu Rd
  • Holmes Road is closed at Old Tai Tapu Rd.

2:06pm: The Australian fire service has made a "generous and open" offer of help, which Prime Minister Bill English told media he presumed was made on behalf of the Australian government.

He said the offer will only be taken up if people on the ground in Christchurch say those resources are required.

But the Prime Minister says they may not be necessary.

"It was pointed out to me up there that they are pretty much at saturation with resources. They've got as many aircraft as they can handle, and the issue with ground crew is they have enough on the ground but they are going to have to rotate those through over the next couple of weeks."

1:20pm: Prime Minister Bill English has held a press conference, saying the fire is contained - but not controlled.

"As you fly around it becomes apparent the danger in fighting this fire. It makes you realise what a threat it has been to the community."

Mr English says evidence showing the two fires were started in different places at the same time suggests arson could be behind them.

"I've only had a very brief description of the fire starting in two places at about the same time which, to someone like me, looks a bit suspicious," Mr English said after viewing the area from a helicopter.

"I wouldn't want to jump to conclusions but that seems a bit odd."

Mr English confirmed there will be a review of the Civil Defence response and the delay in declaring a state of emergency: "No doubt someone will look at whether the processes should have been different."

Also at the press conference, Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the most accurate information about the fire on Wednesday came from the media - not officials.

Those in charge of the fire response have "got to learn" from this experience, Mr Brownlee said.

"I was in Wellington, not Christchurch."

1:00pm: The AM Show's Aziz Al-Sa'afin has talked with Mark Sainsbury on RadioLive about what is available online to help in disasters like the Port Hills fire.

12:24pm: Internet provider Spark has allowed free access to wifi at its 107 telephone boxes across Christchurch. 

"The free WiFi will be available to all locals, in all Christchurch WiFi hotspots - not just Spark customers," it says.

12:15pm: The New Zealand Defence Force says it's sending more personnel and vehicles to the Port Hills area to help fight the fire and to help with evacuations.

12:10pm: Eleven houses have now been destroyed in the fire, Christchurch City Council says.

One hundred and thirty firefighters are on the ground battling the blaze as well as 200 people from rural fire crews. 

12:08pm: Prime Minister Bill English has arrived in Christchurch at the emergency services commend centre for a briefing before a flight over the devastated Port Hills. 

Bill English Port Hills fire
Bill English at the emergency services command centre (Newshub.)

11:30am: ASB Bank has tweeted, offering financial support to victims of the fire.

10:35am: Civil Defence says emergency services have been concentrating their efforts on three fronts at Worsleys Rd, Early Valley Rd and Governors Bay since dawn on Thursday.

The Fire Service has confirmed three houses in Worsleys Rd and two in Hoon Hay Valley Rd were destroyed by the blaze.

Emergency services will continue operations over the weekend.

The short-term weather forecast is concerning, with a northeast wind expected to further drive the fronts, Civil Defence says.

It hopes a southwest change predicted for Friday will lower temperatures and humidity, slowing the fire's progress.

There is a total fire ban in plan in Canterbury.

Evacuations have halted by late Thursday morning, but police warn the situation is extremely volatile and should the fire change direction, people may have to leave at short notice.

The New Zealand Defence Force had 36 staff working overnight and another 25 have joined the operation on Thursday.

10:15am: Local camera operator Ross Younger shared a stunning image of the blaze overnight.

Port Hills fire overnight
(Ross Younger)

10:00am: A cluster of houses have been saved from going up in flames, as helicopters with monsoon buckets drop water on the blackened hillside near Dyer's Pass Rd.

Newshub reporter Alice Wilkins was close to the fire on the hills above Cashmere early on Thursday morning. "Now I'm staring out at a blackened landscape," she says.

"There's still a bit of smoke lingering around but no flames. About ten helicopters came up the hill with monsoon buckets and pushed that fire down the gully away from the houses at the road above.

"There's just a blackened pathway all the way up the hill to one house in particular that we thought was seconds away from being hit by fire."

Port Hills Fire
Burnt hillside near Dyer's Pass Rd
Port Hills fire

9:50am: Port Hills resident Ross Gilray's house is under construction in the area. He doesn't know the fate of his building or his mate's.

"We're more concerned about our friend's house," he says.

"I haven't had a chance to have a chat with him this morning.

"We've got a young family so it has been a little bit more nerve wrecking."

9:40am: School closure update: the Ministry of Education has confirmed Governors Bay School is open.

Cashmere Primary School is closed, as is the Cashmere Early Learning Centre and Kidsfirst Kindergarten in Cashmere.

"We’re not aware of any imminent danger to these or other school buildings, but are monitoring the situation," the ministry says.

"We’re also offering the support of our traumatic incident teams to any schools who might need support."

9:15am: "Our hearts go out to people and their pets who are affected by the Christchurch fires," the SPCA says.

"We are working as a conduit for anyone in need of temporary accommodation for pets or other animals.

"We have extra staff on to take these calls; anyone who needs help please give us a call on (03) 349 7057. We can also provide food packages, blankets and advice."

8:55am: There's been no discussion yet on how the fire started, Newshub reporter Alice Wilkins says. Emergency services are completely focused on keeping the blaze from spreading more.

The house above Dyer's Pass Rd where flames were licking at has been saved, she says.

"The smoke appears to have cleared around the house, but the fire is unpredictable and rapidly moving, so efforts to control the fire continue.

"The helicopters are flying relentlessly overhead in their attempts to control the flames."

8:48am: Prime Minister Bill English told More FM he'll be in Christchurch by midday.

"People need to know all the backup is there that's needed," he said.

"That everyone understands the pressure that’s on them and that’s particularly important in Christchurch where you will have people still dealing with the ongoing impacts of the earthquake.

"We just want them to know that the rest of the country supports them, they care about it, and we'll throw any resource we can at getting this problem solved."

8:35am: Early Valley Rd resident John Gordon has lost everything. He says he came home to see his house engulfed by flames, along with his classic car collection.

"We thought we were going back to our house, we never believed for a minute it was going to be burnt down.

"We didn't really take it seriously to be honest."

8:30am: Rain isn't expected in Christchurch until Friday afternoon.

An easterly wind is expected to turn into a northerly over the morning, with wind speeds picking up to 30km/h in the afternoon.

Around 120 firefighters and support crew have been involved in ground operations to battle the fires that broke out on Monday night.

About 85 Defence Force personnel are helping with efforts.

8:28am: A Cashmere resident living 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.

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

8:25am: Metro Christchurch says a number of its buses can't be tracked as its information system is affected by the fire.

"It is likely that our systems will be affected for a number of days and we ask that if your bus does not appear on "next bus" tools that you use the bus timetables instead.

"Metro thank all firefighters for their hard work and dedication to keeping our communities safe.​"

As of Thursday two bus services are affected by the fire:

Blue Line - all trips will end at Princess Margaret Hospital, no trips will travel to Cashmere Hill

145 Westmorland - Eastgate - all trips will end on Cashmere Rd no buses will travel up Penruddock Rise in Westmorland.

8:18am: Prime Minister Bill English has cancelled all of his scheduled events on Thursday to head to Christchurch.

Mr English had several events in Waikanae and Queenstown, but will now head to the fire-ravaged city to get updates on the emergency response.

8:10am: Residents in the Dyers Pass Rd area of Cashmere Hills, from Kiteroa Pl to Pentre Tce are among the latest to have been told to leave their properties immediately, police say.

8:05am: Many schools are expected to be closed because of the fire. Cashmere Primary School and Governors Bay School are confirmed closed, but Cashmere High School will be open today.

Kidsfirst Cashmere Kindergarten is closed.

8:01am: "We've watched up to ten helicopters with monsoon buckets pour over this hill and focus on one house in particular," Newshub reporter Alice Wilkins told The AM Show.

"Flames have just spread up the hill towards the house and before it disappeared behind a huge plume of smoke it was in immediate danger.

"There are about four other houses nearby and they could be in danger as well," she says. 

8:00am: "Emergency services are constantly having to move around and change direction as the fire changes course and people driving to the area to take photos or see the fire for themselves makes their job a lot harder. Please stay away from the area and stay safe," police say. 

7:50am: Helicopters are in the air with monsoon buckets and desperately trying to douse flames before they destroy a house near Dyer's Pass Rd.

There are several houses on the hill above Cashmere where the flames have gone. 

The flames are only metres away from the properties, Newshub reporter Alice Wilkins says. 

7:40am: Jasmine Peate-Garratt was evacuated from her home, after moving in just the day before.

She told The AM Show 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.

7:35am: Plumes of smoke continue to rise over Christchurch, with city residents sharing dramatic images online. 

7:30am: A Facebook group to help evacuees has been set up. The Evacuation housing group is here.

7:26am: Former Black Cap Chris Harris was evacuated from the area. "The Christchurch people have come to the fore, everyone's supporting each other," he told The AM Show. 

"It is difficult, there’s just nothing you can do... For the three days it's been burning several times it's looked like it's been contained... And then there's a change in the breeze or it comes back on itself and then it just reignites."

"At times there have been 12 aircraft trying to fight it."

7:25am: Emergency services are concerned the fire could spread into the Westmoreland area.

Westmoreland map
The fire has spread across the forested area, and is feared to head for the Westmoreland suburb (Google Maps)

7:20am: Health officials are warning residents to close windows and doors.

"Smoke may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and airways," Dr Alistair Humphrey says.

"More serious symptoms include runny or sore eyes, dry or sore throat, sore nose, cough, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing."

7:15am: "Everything's been thrown at the fire, there's clearly control there," Prime Minister Bill English told The AM Show. 

"It's difficult country, there's a lot of it to cover and they're doing a fantastic job."

7:10am: Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel is telling rubberneckers to stay away from any areas where emergency services are working and respect evacuees.

"There are people who are going to take stuff with them today not knowing whether they're going to get back to their home," she told The AM Show. 

Evacuated areas:

  • Homes downhill of the Sign of the Takahe on Dyers Pass Rd as far as and including Kiteroa Pl and Pentre Tce are being evacuated on Thursday morning
  • South side of Cashmere Rd to Kennedy's Bush Rd and to Hoon Hay Valley Rd
  • Residents in the area from the Sign of the Takehe to Victoria Park
  • Several hundred people have been evacuated from homes in Long Hurst Tce, Worsley Rd, Cracroft, the bottom of Hoon Hay Valley Rd and the Westmorland area

Police say it's imperative that members of the public keep away from the hills - people “rubber-necking” are disrupting the emergency response and making it harder for police and fire services to do their jobs

Christchurch Civil Defence Controller David Adamson says there has been a phenomenal amount of ground staff working through the night, with addition crews set to continue the effort from day break.

Mr Adamson says: “The fire now spans a large front and all agencies are coordinating very well to fight the blaze and support the community.

"However, the situation remains very serious. Police and the Defence Force have had a huge job overnight with evacuations, the setting-up of cordons around key areas and security patrols of areas that have been evacuated.”

Newshub.

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