Port Hills Fire

Port Hills Fire reminds us to take care of each other

I have always been suspicious of smoke since the curtains and wall in my student flat caught fire. A sleeping bag had fallen onto a one-bar electric heater on a freezing Christchurch winter day. The speed with which the curtains ignited was frightening. Beating the fire out with a woollen blanket was an experience I don’t want to repeat.

On Wednesday evening I watched helicopters in the sky from a park in south Christchurch. They looked tiny against the huge plumes of smoke coming from the Port Hills fire
I tried to imagine what it must be like actually flying into the smoke. Trees below were shooting flames skyward, the air was hot and full of smoke, and the wind was gusting.   It made me very grateful that we have so many courageous and dedicated people working to protect the Port Hills.

The skill and commitment of all those working to contain the fires on the Port Hills is extraordinary. Many of them have international expertise, having worked on other extreme fires in Australia and the United States. On Thursday between 300 and 400 firefighters were working to control the fires. Fourteen helicopters have been in the air, along with three fixed wing aircraft; the total number of aircraft that can safely use the airspace above the Port Hills.

So I would like to say a big thank you to all the Police, emergency services, Council and civil defence staff, and volunteers who are providing organisational and welfare support; and news media for their updates and reporting.

The combination of weather, the amount of long grass, gorse and forest on the Port Hills available to fuel the fire, and steep slopes, hills and gullies makes the Port Hills fires extremely challenging. But last night there was less smoke and none of Wednesday’s awful sights of flames against the sky. Still, work on the fires will continue for several weeks. Thankfully the Rural Fire Authority and the Fire Service are able to call on 60 fire crews from across Canterbury with pumps, engines and water tankers.

It was a relief to wake this morning to grey skies, light rain and slightly cooler weather. There is good news that the recently restored Sign of the Kiwi appears to have been saved, but sad news that at least 11 homes have been lost and large areas of regenerating shrubland and forest on the hills have been destroyed.

The uncertainty about the time taken to control all the fires, and the vivid images of a sky filled with flames, may cause some residents beyond the hill suburbs to feel anxious and vulnerable. Across Christchurch, it’s a good time to look after yourself, be kind and reach out to others. Talking about and sharing experiences often helps.

One of the best ways to help the fire and emergency services with their work is to strengthen your own community’s ties, to connect with and support each other, not just today but in the weeks ahead.   There are some tools here. And remember it is all right to reach out for extra support. You are not alone and help is available. Just call 0800 777 846.  Take care everyone.

A message from the Green Party Co-leader