Port Hills blaze: What you need to know

  • Eleven houses destroyed by the fire
  • The blaze has been contained within a 2075 hectare area
  • Cashmere Primary School and Cashmere Kindergarten remain closed on Friday
  • Light rain in the early morning and more forecast for the day
  • Firefighters are focused on Worsleys and Hoon Hay Rds, protecting the Westmorland area
  • Cleaning up will go on for several days, Civil Defence says
  • The Government has confirmed plans to formally review Civil Defence's handling of the fires
  • Nearly $120,000 has been fundraised for the family of killed helicopter pilot Steve Askin. 

Send your latest photos of the Port Hills to digital@newshub.co.nz

5:20pm: Police investigation

Police are working with the New Zealand Fire Service to investigate the cause of the two Port Hills fires.

"No definitive cause for either fire has been established at this time," says Detective Inspector Greg Murton.

"Police will not speculate on the cause of the fires until the investigation is completed."

However, Prime Minister Bill English on Thursday suggested the fires may have been deliberately lit.

It is believed the Summit Road fire was reported approximately 90 minutes after the Early Valley Road fire was reported.

Anyone with any information or photographs regarding the fires is asked to contact Police on 03 363 7400 or via dcc.canterbury@police.govt.nz.

4pm: Cordon update

The cordons at the corner of Early Valley Road and Old Tai Tapu Road and at the corner of Osterholts Road and Old Tai Tapu Road have now been lifted.

These cordons being lifted, along with cordons on the corner of Cashmere Road and Penruddock Rise, have allowed more than 1400 people to return to their homes in the area.

Emergency services say it is a high priority to keep lifting cordons allowing people back in.

Cordons are only being lifted after full risk assessments have been completed.

1:25pm: Cordon update - Cashmere Rd / Penruddock Rise

The cordon at the corner of Cashmere Road and Penruddock Rise has now been lifted, Christchurch City Council says.

Only residents of that area may return to their properties. Access to the area is only available from the east. 

All other cordons remain in place, the council says.

It says it hopes to announce the lifting of some further cordons early this afternoon.

1:20pm: Port Hills locals are celebrating a good dousing of rain.

1:00pm: "The fire area is not expanding and firefighters have made great progress in putting in fire breaks around the perimeter of the fire area," Civil Defence says.

But it warned there was still a "very real" risk of flare-ups due to dry vegetation, the earlier drizzle drying out and winds forecast expected to get up to 50km/h throughout Friday.

"Water drops won't put the fire out completely so we have to back that up with the heavy machinery to put fire breaks in and dig out the hot spots."

But while authorities say shrinking the cordon area around the blaze is a priority, there's still no news for the 1000 residents evacuated from 400 homes on Wednesday night.

"A decision on which cordons will be lifted is expected early this afternoon," Civil Defence said.

The cordon was opened for an hour earlier in the day, causing queues and frustration among residents trying to get back in after it close again.

Te Hāpua Halswell Centre remains open to evacuees. 

Civil Defence said is also waiting until the situation is under control before confirming the total extent of the damage, after the number of homes destroyed was significantly over-reported on Thursday.

12:45pm: Many evacuees are still waiting to be let back to their homes, Newshub reporter Mel Logan told RadioLive.

12:00pm: Christchurch City Council has released an updated map showing locations of cordons around the Port Hills fire area. Cordons are constantly being assessed based on risk, it says.

The fire is contained, but not under control, the council says.

11:40am: A potential wedding nightmare has been extinguished for a couple set to be married on the Port Hills tomorrow.

Andy White and his partner Mary have travelled up from Te Anau for their wedding at an outdoor location amongst rocks - which is right in the fire zone.

However, Andy says while it's been difficult they've been amazed at the support and generosity offered.

"Our celebrant was just a couple of houses away from the fire line, and even he was more concerned about our wedding than his own house, so I think the community spirit here has just been amazing," he says.

"It's a stressful time anyway just before a wedding, coupled with what we've had, but it's brought everyone together."

The couple have moved their wedding to Hagley Park's Botanical Gardens.

11:15am: The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is delivering a 15-tonne planeload of fire retardant material to Christchurch on Friday afternoon to kill the Port Hills blaze.

It's scheduled to arrive from Melbourne at 5:20pm. 

10:20am: It's not just emergency services battling the fire, local Christchurch companies have lent a hand as well.

Christchurch Contracting was called in to build massive fire walls on challenging terrain.

Managing director Hamish Wright says his team were right on the front line as the fire was raging.

"There was a group of about six houses that probably would've burnt down if we couldn't stop the fire from getting in there."

He praised the work of the helicopters, who kept the bulldozers safe by hovering above with monsoon buckets.

Meanwhile evacuees are heading into their third day of being out of their homes as a result of the Port Hills fire in Christchurch.

Westmoreland resident Nick Taylor says he and his flatmates packed up their cars after watching the flames creep closer and headed to a friend's in a safer suburb.

"Straight away she was just like, 'Yep you can all come stay here, no drama,' and we've been sleeping on the floor but that's bee fine."

10:00am: Another 30 police are due to arrive in Christchurch on Friday to help local officers.

Cordons remain in place, patrolled by police and Defence Force staff.

9:50am: Labour Party deputy leader Annette King supports the call for a Civil Defence overhaul, but isn't happy about the timing of Gerry Brownlee's scathing comments.

However, she says she'd welcome a review of policy.

"I think it is important that we do review this and see if there will be changes, and I can assure you that there will be cross-party support for changes. I can't believe that since 2010 things haven't changed."

9am: On Saturday the rain from the North Island looks like it may well push right into Canterbury, Weatherwatch.co.nz says.

However Saturday may get 5mm of rain, the weather forecaster says.

Low cloud could hamper helicopters and visibility as the humid northeasterly wind moves across the Port Hills. 

8:45am: Helicopters have begun their aerial attack on the remaining hotspots over the 2000 hectares on the Port Hills. 

8:30am: The Royal Air Force Hercules is bringing fire retardant over from Australia. 

7:55am: It's a hazy morning in the Port Hills. Daylight is revealing steam rising from scorched ground.

Port Hills on Friday morning

7:50am: Light rain has fallen in Christchurch overnight, boosting firefighters' efforts to control the massive Port Hills fire which has destroyed houses and spread over more than 2000ha.

"It's been a really good night. We had some light rain, it felt like Christmas," Fire Service southern communications shift manager Riwai Grace said on Friday morning.

"It wasn't much but still, it's a lovely feeling.

"To be honest I don't think it's gone far during the night, but we won't know until the helicopters have gone up," Mr Grace said.

Fifteen crew from the US Coastguard icebreaker Polar Star will on Friday be helping Defence Force and police in the evacuation area and helicopters are expected to resume flying shortly.

The MetService is forecasting occasional drizzle for Friday with maybe 2.6mm falling, along with cooler temperatures and higher humidity.

Christchurch Civil Defence says the clean-up of the fire area would go on for several more days.

Controller Dave Adamson says nearly 400 firefighters worked on the fire during Thursday, some using heavy machinery to create fire breaks.

The total number of properties affected won't be known until the emergency has ended.

7:40am: Former All Black captain and now-helicopter pilot Richie McCaw has told The AM Show about helping people during the Port Hills fire.

He says the death of chopper pilot Steven Askin put other pilots in a state of shock. "It was incredibly sad... We lost a really good man."

Steven and Elizabeth Askin
Steven and Elizabeth Askin (Givealittle.co.nz)

7:30am: More than $110,000 has been raised for the family of the helicopter pilot who died in a crash fighting the fires on Tuesday.

Steve Askin is survived by a wife and two young children. A Givealittle page set up for the family had already received more than $110,000 in public donations by Friday morning.

Mr Askin was a former SAS soldier who was wounded fighting the Taliban.

His funeral will be held in Christchurch on Monday.

The helicopter crash is being investigated by police, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

7:16am: Civil Defence's John Mackie told The AM Show he understands where Gerry Brownlee is coming from but it's not the right time.

7:00am: Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has taken responsibility for calling the state of emergency during the Port Hills fire, and says she is satisfied the timing of the decision did not make any difference to the firefighting effort.

"At the end of the day it's my call as to whether we call a Civil Defence emergency and that will be reviewed, the communication flows will be reviewed," she told The AM Show on Friday.

Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the response to the Port Hill fires will face a cross-party review. In a statement on Friday morning, he said: "I do believe that states of local emergencies could have been declared earlier but, at the time, I was not in Christchurch and local authorities knew the situation in more detail than I did."

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday when the first evacuation of houses near the fire was made.

Ms Dalziel says she's satisfied nothing could have been done better had she called it earlier, "but I will take responsibility and I will talk to the minister today about what his concerns are".

"I sat in the same briefing with him yesterday. We heard the same message which was nothing that was done yesterday was affected in any way by the timing of the calling of the state of emergency," she says.

If any of the emergency services fighting the fire had wanted a state of emergency called, they would have let the Mayor of Selwyn and Ms Dalziel know, she says.

The handling of the Kaikoura earthquake in November had already raised "concerns  about the response structures," Mr Brownlee said.

“The fires this week have strengthened the mandate for change."

His main concern was the way information was reported up the chain “and the time it can take to access up-to-date information that has been of most concern for me".

“Clarifying and simplifying the chain of command will help ensure clear lines of communication and effective decision-making in the immediate aftermath of significant events.

6:00am: It's been another sleepless night for the Fire Service and emergency crews keeping Christchurch's Port Hills fire contained.

A couple of flare-ups near Dyer's Pass Rd kept crews busy. Thermal imaging was used to identify hot spots. Their focus has been on Worsleys Rd and protecting the densely-populated Westmoreland suburb.

Christchurch Civil Defence says slightly cooler weather conditions and higher humidity with some light rain is welcome relief for emergency services fighting the fire.

There is a lot of work to do to clean up the whole fire area and this will go on for several days, Civil Defence says.

Te Hāpua Halswell Centre remains open with a small amount of people staying there. Ngā Hau e Whā Marae and the Selwyn welfare centre have been closed.

Fifteen crew from the US Coast Guard's icebreaker ship USCGC Polar Star are assisting police and the New Zealand Defence Force in the evacuated areas.

A Defence Force Hercules will arrive in Christchurch from Australia with fire retardant.

The Professional Fire Fighters Union says its members are concerned at the lack of communication between agencies during the emergency.

Spokesperson Derek Best says it's imperative the chain of command is sorted as there is confusion between rural fire fighters, councils, the Fire Service, the Defence Force and police.

"The changes need to happen very quickly because obviously another earthquake or another fire like this could happen at any time," he says.

Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has complained about delays by officials and indicated an inquiry is likely.

Meanwhile the Transport Accident Investigation Commission has now recovered the wreckage of the helicopter that crashed on Tuesday while helping fight the fire.

Pilot David Steven Askin died in the accident.

The wreckage will be transported to Wellington for further analysis.

Fire area map
(Christchurch Civil Defence)

Road closures

The following roads are currently closed because of the Port Hills fire. People are being asked to stay well away from them.

  • Cashmere Rd is closed between Hendersons Rd and Kaiwara St
  • Penruddock Rise is also closed at Cashmere Rd
  • 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
  • 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