No evidence Christchurch's Port Hills fires were deliberately lit, Canterbury's top cop says
There is no evidence suggesting Christchurch's Port Hills fires were deliberately lit, the region's top police officer says.
Prime Minister Bill English had suggested the fires appeared suspicious, while earlier media reports had comment from independent fire investigator Ken Legat suggesting the fire was "certainly suspicious".
However, Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price said that would be a "quantum leap".
"Police and the New Zealand Fire Service, as well as rural fire, are jointly working together on what the causation of the fires are," Price said.
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"Just like any fire, we are working together to determine the cause, but it is definitely not suspicious at this stage."
Detective Inspector Greg Murton backed up Price's comments saying: "While there has been speculation about the cause of the two fires, no definitive cause for either fire has been established at this time."
"Initial enquiries indicate that the Summit Rd fire was reported approximately 90 minutes after the Early Valley Rd fire was reported."
It is understood the fire in Early Valley started as a result of an electrical fault, but the cause of the Marley's Hill fire remains unknown.
After visiting the Christchurch command centre on Thursday, English was asked whether he had been briefed about the cause of the fires, and suggested arson was a possibility.
"I've only had a very brief description of the fire starting in two places at about the same time, which to someone like me looks suspicious, but those investigations are underway."
Christchurch man Scott Fellers was one of the first on the scene of the Summit Rd fire, near Marley's Hill, on Monday evening.
Fellers was ferrying his wife and her mountainbike to the top of Victoria Park when the pair spotted smoke alongside Summit Rd around 7.15pm.
"Right before the Sign of the Kiwi we could see smoke from the other fire in the distance, but in front of that there was what looked like a large campfire and some wisps of smoke," Fellers said.
They pulled over to investigate the smoke, "as there was no fire trucks or anything around".
"My wife called 111 at that point, and the call taker didn't know about it. It was news to them," Fellers said.
He said the flames started about 30 metres of the side of the road near the Flying Nun bike track, in the scrub between Summit Rd and the trees.
"There was maybe 10 or so cyclists and others that had stopped to see what was going on and we talked to a few of the people and everyone seemed to agree it was a strange place for a fire to start."
Anyone with any information about, or photographs of, the fires is asked to contact police on 03 363 7400 or through firstname.lastname@example.org.