Fire hit farmers discover home survived on Facebook


Civil Defence warns there is still a long way to go before the Port Hills fire in Christchurch is under control.

Greg Graham finally knows his home is safe, but it wasn't until he came across an aerial shot of Christchurch's Port Hills fire on Facebook that he knew for sure.

"We saw an aerial photo on Facebook which showed the house and wedding centre intact - it looks okay, a bit of digger-damage but no fire around it.

"I can't tell if the alpacas are okay. From the aerial view, there is no reason why they shouldn't be but they could be affected by smoke."

Greg Graham, wife Rachel and one of their alpaca stud animals. The family is waiting to be let back onto their property ...
Howard Keene

Greg Graham, wife Rachel and one of their alpaca stud animals. The family is waiting to be let back onto their property after it was ravaged by fire.

It has been very frustrating, Gordon said.

*  Live: Homes evacuated as Christchurch Port Hills fires rage out of control
Photos: Choppers, fire crews battle blazes in Christchurch's Port 

Are you affected, or do you know more? Email the reporter here 

Sheep being moved as the fire front is blown into Happy Valley now consumed by the huge fire on the Port Hills.
Joseph Johnson

Sheep being moved as the fire front is blown into Happy Valley now consumed by the huge fire on the Port Hills.

There had been no communication from the Fire Service or the Christchurch City Council, he said.

"I can't even get close the property for a look. The only view is from Sparks Road."

Graham said he had contact with some of the fire crew on Tuesday morning, but nothing since. The only people to be in touch were the media.

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"I've been lucky enough to have a friend who's doing fire breaks. He saved Kennedys Bush. He's been able to give me some idea of what's going on.

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"My brother-in-law bumped into a ground crew manager on Thursday morning and he said they had to put out hot spots in the valley before we could go home

"It's sounding more and more like it will be a week until we get home, he said.

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Fires burn along ridges of the Port Hills in Christchurch.

"They are letting some people back in but not our valley.

What's more, Graham must find somewhere for his family to stay.

"We have to move out of the place we've been staying and find somewhere to live. It's not easy - there are six of us and two dogs."

Graham said his alpaca stud of about 30 animals had been moved to a safe location across a creek, then moved again by fire crew at some point yesterday evening. 

"They are okay. They have half a dozen troughs."

Graham said he "camped out" with his family in a paddock on Wednesday night after being evacuated.

"We watched the flames. The waiting is very difficult," he said.

Cashmere Estate Forest, owned by McVicar Holdings Ltd, has worn its fair share of the fire.

The 400ha forest sprawls from Dyers Pass Road down into the valley and up across Worsley Spur.

McVicar Holdings Ltd director John McVicar said they hadn't been able to get to the forest so couldn't say how many trees had been burnt.

"But it's a significant amount.

"There are millions of dollars worth of trees in that forest so the loss will be in the millions."

The loss would be covered by insurance, he said.

Federated Farmers adverse events manager Katie Milne said she had yet to receive word of stock losses from the fire at this stage.

"The footprint of the fire covers mainly reserve and plantation land.

"Unfortunately, because this land is no longer grazed there has been a build-up of dry grass and debris which has acted as fuel to the fire.

A fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical problem, began on Monday along Early Valley Rd in Lansdowne. By 7pm, crews were battling a second blaze, burning on Marley's Hill, south of the city. Authorities don't know how that blaze began, but believe it started in a car park off Summit Rd.

The fires have merged into one and now cover more than 1800 hectares, or 18 square kilometres.

Changeable winds are driving the fires on several fronts, with 450 homes officially evacuated and hundreds of other residents choosing to self-evacuate.

Homes, forest blocks, shelter belts and fence lines have been in the aim of the yet to be controlled blaze.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury provincial president Lynda Murchison said some farmers have had to move stock from the path of the fire.

"Feds have had shepherds and dogs on standby," she said.

"As far as I know one farming family lost a house on their property and had to move stock.

"An alpaca farm was evacuated on Early Valley Road.

"As far as Feds know, our sources say there have been no stock losses. It's been more luck than anything else, that the area of the fire was plantation and lifestyle blocks, not farmland.

"We know about the farmer's situation, but not how the lifestylers have got on," Murchison said.

The Port Hills fires have drawn fire units from Mid-Canterbury, depleting the firefighting capacity in the area, said Federated Farmers.

Farmers are being urged not to burn stubble until the spate of north-westerly winds has abated.

"There is a lot of stock on Banks Peninsula but fortunately not in the line of the fire," said Milne.

"The drought could also mean that farmers have de-stocked over the past couple of years."

Pam Richardson of Pigeon Bay has been the acting co-ordinator for the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust and Federated Farmers for the duration of the fire.

She said so far there had been no indication of stock losses but it was too early to tell.

"There will be some but we are not sure of the extent," she said.

"Most farmers have been chasing stock for several days now and were organised enough to keep them from harm's way.

"We will know more about stock losses when people are able to go back to their properties."

Eight shepherds and dogs were on standby to assist farmers with moving stock, she said.

A farming couple on Cashmere Hill was devastated after having lost their grazing to the fire and were looking for an alternative for their fat lambs.

"It has been traumatic for these guys and they are under a lot of pressure," Richardson said.

She said she was "a collector of information" with a number of people working around her. 

"I'm not on the road," she said. "I've spoken to a lot of people and let them know there is support if they need it."

 - Stuff


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