Police hit out at 'disaster tourists' hampering firefighting efforts, endangering pilots fighting Port Hills fire

As Fire and Emergency New Zealand and police fight to contain the fire on Christchurch's Port Hills, authorities have sent stern warnings to "disaster tourists" making an already dangerous task even riskier.  

The Port Hills blaze remains uncontrolled and uncontained as helicopters return to the sky on Thursday morning.  

A local state of emergency remains in place and multiple affected residents have spent the night away from their homes.

Inspector Ash Tabb of the Canterbury Police told the public in a press conference on Thursday morning officers were assisting with evacuations, cordoning off the area, and reassuring the community.   

The main issue police were facing was "disaster tourists".  

Inspector Tabb said, "people are going into the area to have a look and they are making it very hard for all those involved in the firefighting.  

The curious and unwanted guests were getting in the way of fire crews getting large firefighting equipment and earthmoving machinery by blocking roads.   

They were also making it hard for "those residents who are genuinely trying to get back to their houses to get stuff out.  

"They can't get to their own houses or get away because of people sightseeing on the roads," Inspector Tabb said.   

"Let the firefighters do their job and let the community enter the area if required."  

Emergency Management Minister Mark Mitchell praised the work being done to fight the fire, but said, "I want to reiterate and support the comments made by the inspector.  

"Please people, stay out of the area," Mitchell said.   

He recalled a fire in Tasmania over Christmas in 2018 where "some brain surgeon decided to put a drone up.  

"I'm sending a very clear signal, do not put drones up."

Mitchell emphasised the risk posed to helicopter pilots by unmanaged drones flying around, describing drones as putting them in "extreme danger.  

"They actually have to land the aircraft and it interferes with the fighting of that fire.  

"Those actions will be met with serious consequences."  

Drones have only become more commonplace since 2018, with many New Zealanders owning them for recreational as well as professional purposes.   

Christchurch knows first-hand how risky fighting fires is for helicopter pilots.   

A fire in the Port Hills in 2017 saw the tragic death of pilot Corporal David Steven Askin who died while helping the firefighting efforts.