Christchurch Port Hills fire investigation closed, cause undetermined

The investigation into the cause of the Port Hills fires that burnt through more than 1,600 hectares in Christchurch's outskirts last February has concluded.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) announced on Tuesday the cause of the fires was undetermined and they had closed the investigation. 

It took 66 days before it was fully extinguished.

The fires broke out in Early Valley and Marley's Hill on February 13 last year.

A lack of physical evidence and being unable to interview anyone responsible has made it very difficult to determine the cause and origin, FENZ says.

However, FENZ believes both were deliberately lit and the matter remains in the hands of the police.

FENZ chief executive Rhys Jones says fires on the Port Hills could happen in the future.

"New Zealanders need to start thinking like Australians in terms of adapting our lifestyles to take into account the wild fire threat.

"Climate change means we will get more extreme conditions, and we all need to be prepared. It's important now, more than ever, we work together and do everything we can to be prepared," he says.

FENZ will only reopen the investigation if new evidence comes to light.


The Port Hills fires:

  • The fire lasted from February 13 to April 20, taking 66 days to be declared fully extinguished.
  • Tragically, the fire claimed one life. That of helicopter pilot and decorated soldier, Steve Askin.
  • No other serious physical injuries to firefighters or residents.
  • Originally two fires, starting in Early Valley Rd and Marley's Hill, they merged to become one inferno.
  • It ravaged 1,661 hectares of land, the equivalent of 1,600 rugby fields.
  • At its peak, the fire had 100,000 kilowatts of energy, the equivalent of up to four atom bombs.
  • More than 300 firefighters from across the South Island, including two crews from Dunedin, responded.
  • Between February 13 and February 17 in excess of 900 calls came in to 111, the majority of which were Port Hills related.
  • Fourteen helicopters and more than 100 appliances and water tankers were deployed.
  • Nine homes were lost and five others suffered damage.