Port Hills locals' big 'thank you' to helicopter firefighters

A big sign reads 'Thank you'
The Port Hills fire started at the edge of Roger Beattie's property - but the house is untouched (Roger Beattie/Supplied)

Three weeks before the Port Hills fire broke out, a group of locals met to discuss protecting their farms from fire. The area is dry, and there have been fires in the past.

Roger Beattie was one of those locals. When the wildfire broke out last Monday, he and some neighbours banded together, fighting the fire with what equipment they had.

On his own property, he drained the swimming pool, giving the house a "good soaking". He activated his commercial irrigation system at his own home, leaving it running for two days.

When they were told to evacuate on Wednesday, the smoke was so thick that they were leaving anyway.

After locking up and leaving the house behind, Mr Beattie got about two kilometres up the road before bumping into his neighbour. He suggested Mr Beattie lend a helping hand fighting the fire. Together, they spent three hours putting in a fire break.

From where they worked, Mr Beattie could see his house. It was engulfed in smoke. He was sure it had "gone up in flames".

But when they returned home on Saturday, the house was untouched. 

"We are feeling very lucky", he said.

He is right to feel lucky - the fire started just six metres from his property's eastern boundary and finished up 100 metres from his home.

It burned his neighbour's home to the ground. They "lost pretty much everything", he said.

The fire around Worsleys Rd on February 15 (Getty)
The fire around Worsleys Rd on February 15 (Getty)

To show his gratitude to the team of helicopter fire fighters, Mr Beattie has made a big sign from an old advertising hoarding, which can only be read from the sky. It's about 15 metres long, around 5 metres high.

They whipped it up on Sunday, because "it's a bit hard to yell to those guys".

"The message to the helicopter guys is: 'You're doing a great job. Absolutely fantastic'."

Mr Beattie owns two farms as well as the Port Hills lifestyle block where he lives. He farms sheep, kelp and blue pearl from paua. There are stock at his Port Hills home, but they made it through the fire - and that smoke - just fine.

He says the neighbours are planning to meet up and see what they can do to help each other out from here.

He'll get out his bulldozer and "clear the fences that are buggered". Then they'll get on to putting up new ones.

"There are virtually no fences. They are pretty urgent to get up. Stock are wandering," he said.

It's a "can-do" community, he explains, his voice still hoarse.

"I've breathed in a few minerals", he chuckles.