Up in smoke: What the Port Hills mean to Christchurch video

STUFF.CO.NZ

How a fire in Christchurch's Port Hills developed into a city-wide state of emergency.

If you are a firefighter working in Christchurch right now, stop for just a second and stand tall.

That feeling you have is several hundred thousand Cantabrians patting you on the back with gratitude.

I cannot fathom what it's like to turn up for a shift at work, only to find yourself face to face with an unpredictable blazing inferno. 

First we looked down in horror at our quake-ravaged city. Now we look up at spiralling plumes.
OLIVER WATSON/SUPPLIED

First we looked down in horror at our quake-ravaged city. Now we look up at spiralling plumes.

To every firefighter who has risked their life to battle these fires - thank you, you are all heroes.

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For the first time in six years, hearing helicopters overhead this morning made me happy.

If the fire had got to the transmission tower, Christchurch could have lost TV channels for up to 48 hours.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

If the fire had got to the transmission tower, Christchurch could have lost TV channels for up to 48 hours.

Like many earthquake-weary Cantabrians the noise of helicopters or sirens can still make me momentarily tense as it is a reminder of a frightening post-earthquake time six years ago.

Do you remember the photographs taken from the Port Hills which showed dust rising from around Christchurch city after the 2011 earthquake?

As we near the sixth anniversary of that tragedy, it feels almost as if the scene is reversed.

The sky above Christchurch glowed orange on Wednesday night as the Port Hills blaze burned.
Mark Hannah Photography

The sky above Christchurch glowed orange on Wednesday night as the Port Hills blaze burned.

Back then we took to the hills, looking down upon our earthquake-damaged city in horror.

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Now we are looking up to the our fire-ravaged Port Hills, staring horrified at the spiralling smoke plumes and dust clouds.

It's nothing short of devastating.

Helicopters near Sugar Loaf, see from Westmorland on  Thursday morning.
Iain McGregor

Helicopters near Sugar Loaf, see from Westmorland on Thursday morning.

My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes and especially to the family of David Steven Askin, a true hero who lost his life while working to save others.

Yesterday friends evacuated their homes, posting pictures online of giant flames photobombing their houses, their cars loaded with pets bundled in cages or wide-eyed children.

It felt chaotic and their panic, even from the distance of a screen, was palpable.

The view from the top of the Port Hills is stunning.
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

The view from the top of the Port Hills is stunning.

Like the tsunami warning debacle of last November, there seemed to be little clear direction from authorities for affected residents.

What do these fires mean for Christchurch?

It's important to remember that we collectively lost so much after the earthquakes. These fires feel like yet another major blow to the city.

Slack-lining in the Port Hills, Christchurch's recreation zone for all kinds of activities.
Ethan Takerei

Slack-lining in the Port Hills, Christchurch's recreation zone for all kinds of activities.

After the earthquakes, with our swimming pools, sports grounds and centres largely destroyed, the welcoming green-jewel of the city, the Port Hills, became our playground.

Nestled around the city, a familiar, comforting sight in an unknown place we lived called "new normal".

Last year more than 1.2 million people visited the Port Hills.

An Alpine Fault rupture may take two minutes to be felt in Christchurch.
John Kirk-Anderson

An Alpine Fault rupture may take two minutes to be felt in Christchurch.

Post-earthquake, many residents used the hills as giant green gym, jogging the gentle curving slopes of the Harry Ell track or puffing up the steep Worsleys Spur.

To stand at some point on the Crater Rim was to be struck by our city's abundance of natural beauty – the stunning views of the harbour on one side, the majestic Southern Alps on the other.

The potential loss of the Adventure Park is particularly galling. It's a fun-filled giant symbol that Christchurch was moving forward, that, finally, something was happening in the rebuild. To be uncertain of its future so soon after celebrating its opening is disheartening.

Biking at Montgomery Spur on the Port Hills offers fabulous views of Christchurch, when not covered with smoke.
Graham Allan

Biking at Montgomery Spur on the Port Hills offers fabulous views of Christchurch, when not covered with smoke.

Kia kaha, we say to each other here whenever Mother Nature lets one rip.

It means, of course, "stay strong". But the phrase has, perhaps, also changed and deepened in meaning for Cantabrians.

Sometimes kia kaha can also mean: "We feel your pain, we acknowledge your pain, we can't believe that we are having to go through this either. Seriously, what next? Freaking locusts? We are strangers but we're in this together and we will do whatever we can to help you get through this."

As people were evacuated yesterday, I watched online as hundreds of people offered strangers beds, clothing, food and transport.

Cantabrians rushed to offer strangers their homes: "I've got two rooms, a double bed, plus three tents and room for your pets" posted one person, "dinner's on, beds are made up, room for four" posted another. Other people offered to drive livestock to safety and feed and care for beloved pets.

Armies of people baked for, and fed and watered our hard working firefighters and police force.

This spirit and heart is what it means to be a Cantabrian.

There's a 90-year-old I know who is good at dispensing a bit of wisdom when required.

She grew up in the depression and lived through the Blitz.

As her home is in the vicinity of the fire's devilish red fingers, I called to check up on her.

She tells me that she's been making cheese scones for the fire service and police since the sun came up.

"That's what you do in difficult times. You look after each other as best you can, you do your bit. Hopefully the Christchurch summer will be on course and the rain will come soon. In time the grass will grow and we will run on the green hills again."

Kia kaha, Christchurch.

 - Stuff

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