How a Dad's Army of locals helped prevent worse loss in the Port Hills blaze

BEVAN READ/stuff.co.nz

There are lessons to be learned and questions to be answered for Early Valley Road residence.

When a wildfire broke out in Lansdowne Valley in Christchurch's Port Hills on Monday, the Dad's Army Fast Response fire team swung into action.

The informal team had been set up by locals concerned about the fire risk in the tinder dry farming community, and just three weeks earlier they had met to discuss fire protection.

There been many fires in the area over the years, caused by lightning strikes, blown electricity fuses and fireworks. It is thought Monday's blaze was caused by a blown fuse on a pole in Early Valley Rd – locals heard a loud bang beforehand – but police say investigations are ongoing.

The remains of a wheelbarrow at Ken McKenzie's place.
BEVAN READ

The remains of a wheelbarrow at Ken McKenzie's place.

The quick response team had its own firefighting equipment, including water tanks and pumps spread up the valley.

READ MORE:
Analysis: What could have been done to stop the Port Hills blaze?
Devastation of the Port Hills fires from above
Firefighters were sent home early from Christchurch fire response

 

Ken McKenzie has been instrumental is setting up the "Dad's Army" fast response fire team in Lansdowne Valley.
BEVAN READ

Ken McKenzie has been instrumental is setting up the "Dad's Army" fast response fire team in Lansdowne Valley.

 

 

Roger Beattie, whose business card describes him as a "farmer's husband", says the fire started five metres from his property, went around the valley and finished about 100m away.

Ken McKenzie stands by the wreckage of a shed.
BEVAN READ

Ken McKenzie stands by the wreckage of a shed.

He and a neighbour cranked up the quick response fire equipment at 2am Tuesday "and started fighting fires".

Ad Feedback

Beattie points to a line in the grass by the side of the road – one side charred black, the other perfectly yellow, untouched by flames.

"That's where I backlit it, I stopped it. A whole lot of firefighters were standing there doing nothing, they couldn't make up their minds. They ran a whole lot of hoses out but I don't know whether they used them.

A car was damaged on the Claude family property.
BEVAN READ

A car was damaged on the Claude family property.

"There just wasn't enough action – they're too concerned about safety. The trouble with health and safety is it's bad for your health and safety – the first response is inaction – 'no, don't do that it might be dangerous'.

"I've spent months fighting peat fires on the Chatham Islands – I know more about fighting peat and grass fires than all those city firemen put together."

Beattie believes the work of locals saved several properties. "If it wasn't for the locals doing stuff, there would have been several houses go up."

Fin Claude in the wreckage of the family home where he grew up.
BEVAN READ

Fin Claude in the wreckage of the family home where he grew up.

He pays tribute to "man of action" Ken McKenzie, a retired NZ Rail fitter, who built a lot of the firefighting equipment and ensured that all the pumps in the valley were working.

McKenzie and wife Denise have 37 hectares on Early Valley Rd and lost a shed, various farm equipment and several ducks. But most of their animals survived and miraculously their house did too, flames licking at the edges but pushed back from the air.

"What saved our place was 34 monsoon buckets that were dropped on the house," Mckenzie says.

The remains of a motorbike at the Claude property.
BEVAN READ

The remains of a motorbike at the Claude property.

A fine layer of ash covers everything in his office, which blew in through an open window. "If one ember had come in, it would have gone up."

McKenzie wasn't able to get near his property as the flames threatened it, but spent 48 hours fighting small blazes with neighbours.

He shares Beattie's concerns about a lack of action. Two houses were burnt down further up Early Valley Rd.

The remains of the Claude family home
BEVAN READ

The remains of the Claude family home

"I believe that the fire could have been stopped further up, saving the two houses we lost. If action had been taken quicker and we'd got more resources to the site...it should have been able to be stopped before it headed towards town.

"If they got helicopters and bulldozers in, it could have been stopped. The issue I have is pretty much the organisation, the level above - there's something drastically wrong."

Meanwhile, Andy Nicholson says he was told he would be arrested if he didn't stop fighting the fire. 

A video filmed by his 19-year-old son Robert shows Nicholson driving up to a neighbour's house to try battle the blaze before realising the situation was too dangerous.

"The most important thing is to get to a fire early [but] by the time we got to Ken's place this thing was astronomical. The fire had rocketed up to the edge [of the road]. It had engulfed everything.

"We knew we couldn't stop the fire so we got out of there."

He went back to protect his own property, where there is now damage to his pasture and fences. Luckily his house and livestock made it through the fire unscathed.

But, he said, a policeman forced him to leave nevertheless, allegedly saying he would be arrested if he didn't comply with the evacuation order. 

Nicholson said he and some of his neighbours have made a formal complaint about the officer.

Police released a written statement saying they were discussing the incident with Nicholson directly.

"Canterbury Police District Commander, Superintendent John Price, had spoken personally to Mr Nicholson about the Civil Defence operation, including aspects involving Police," the statement said.

"Superintendent Price looks forward to continuing to discuss the matter with Mr Nicholson in the near future."

McKenzie chokes up when he thinks of the amount of work ahead.

"I'm a person who gets a bit emotional about things. This is tough. I've lost 20 years of trees and landscaping we'd done around this place - it's going to take the rest of my life, whatever that is, to get it back to how it was."

As an indication of how much fire risk plays on people's minds in this valley - McKenzie was down the road talking to a mate about using ponds on his land to supply fire engines in the event of a blaze, when his wife rang screaming: "Fire!"

He says climate change is a "massive factor" - in recent years "we've been getting different weather, dry weather patterns."

While the McKenzies and Nicholson had a lucky escape, further up the valley the Claude family was not so lucky.  Fin Claude, 17, a student at Rudolf Steiner, stands in the smouldering ruins of the family home - the only home he's ever known.

"I'm pretty upset. It's the only house me and my sister have ever lived in - dad built it with his mates and brothers."

Fin was out from friends on Monday when he got a call from his mother, saying simply "don't come home".

"I could hear in her voice, and my sister crying in the background."

His sister, Ruby, had been out for a jog and his mum Katie was sitting in the kitchen when the fire bore down on the property.

"Mum knew it was bad, she jumped in the car and raced up to grab Ruby. As they got home they got a phone call from dad [Phil]. He'd tried to drive up the road but couldn't because of the flames and smoke. He said 'run down the valley as fast as you can'.

"Mum and Ruby sprinted down a track with the dog and met dad halfway up the track - dad had four-wheel drived right up to the top of a waterfall, and he drove them out."

"By the time they were at the waterfall they could see the flames rushing up the valley."

Fin, meanwhile, had gone to Kennedy's Bush and was looking out over the valley, seeing his home engulfed in smoke.

On Tuesday, the family were allowed through a cordon.

"We were told the house had been singed, and we'd be able to get a bit of stuff out - when we arrived it was pretty clear that we weren't getting much out of here.

"Some of that stuff we're never going to get back, every photo album, great granddad's rifle, stuff like that, everything you can think of in your house really.

"Although we lost everything, we're just thankful they got out."

 - Stuff

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Auckland

Sport: Louisa Gago a Kiwi Ferns rookie

The Gago sisters, Louisa, left, the Kiwi Fern and Grace, the rugby player who helped her back from a broken ankle.

Louisa Gago has her sister Grace to thank . 

Abandoned house albaze

A St John Ambulance spokesperson said the house was abandoned and empty at the time of the fire.

Large fire tears through empty, abandoned property in Auckland suburb of New Lynn.

Auckland beaches go smokefree

Auckland beaches will be smokefree as of November.

Smoking at outdoor dining areas has also been stubbed out just in time for summer.

Fatal Auckland cliff fall

Emergency services were called after reports a person had fallen from a cliff in Mairangi Bay in Auckland. (FILE)

A person is dead after falling from a cliff in Mairangi Bay on Auckland's North Shore.

Wellington

Evans Bay camper trouble

Neighbours complain that they regularly see freedom campers getting dressed in public, doing their laundry and cleaning ...

Freedom campers doing laundry and getting dressed in public, say neighbours.

Hitch in Basin plans?

Concept drawings of new apartment block on Hania St, which has been granted resource consent by Wellington City Council.

Consent for Wellington apartments may hinder possible solutions to traffic woes.

Featherston's identity crisis

Featherston's war memorial. The fact that the town has no official name is "weird", Napier says. (File photo)

It's a town that doesn't officially have a name. Now that's about to change.

Quake jolts central NZ

The quake struck at 5.17pm at a depth of 18km, according to Geonet.

Short and sharp 3.8 magnitude earthquake near Lower Hutt rattled Wellington.

Canterbury

Neighbours' row turned to murder

Stephen Findlay in his younger days

Miranda Clare knew her dad was involved when she heard of a murder near Dunedin.

Court action over fires

Fires burn in the Port Hills above Christchurch in February.

IAG and policy holders claim the Orion Group and the Christchurch Adventure Park caused the Port Hills fires.

Complaint at police conduct

James Samson claims police holding a grudge have unfairly targeted his family's businesses.

A convicted drug dealer and member of family behind a strip club claims police have unfairly targeted his family's businesses.

570km to get out of caravan video

Cindy is living with her two sons in a borrowed caravan at the Tahuna Beach  Holiday Park while trying to get a Housing ...

A Nelson mum and her two boys are moving to Timaru - just to get a home.

Waikato

Mother's phone scam taxi ride

Dimpi Nirmal, left and husband Vineet have $1900 worth of iTunes vouchers as a reminder of the phone scam.

They hacked her husband's phone, threatened his life then ordered her a taxi to an iTunes store.

Family want answers

Neville John Maxwell Butler with his mum, Julie Donner.

Days after leaving jail, Neville Butler was dead. 

One dead in Waihi crash 

A car and a truck were involved in the serious, two-car crash on State Highway 2, depicted in this Google Maps image.

Emergency services are responding to the State Highway 2 crash.

Shot before threesome

Tiffani Jade Sutcliffe asked if a shotgun was loaded before pulling the trigger and killing Rhys Gordon Williamson

It was meant to be an evening of drug-taking and group sex. It ended in anger and death.

Taranaki

Coops captured on canvas

Jordan Barnes' portrait of Colin Cooper was commissioned by the TRFU as a farewell gift for the coach.

He's painted All Blacks and Anna Paquin and now, as a farewell present, outgoing Taranaki coach Colin Cooper.

Protection for breaks

Pro surfer Courtney Conlogue, shreds a wave at Fitzroy Beach which is on a list of Taranaki Regional Council surf breaks ...

Taranaki's top surf spots have been identified so they can be protected.

New crossing barriers removed

Safety barriers put in at the corner of Rata and Miro Streets in Inglewood have been take down because people tampered ...

Temporary safety barriers installed at an Inglewood pedestrian crossing have been removed because they were dangerous.

Climbing Everest in Taranaki

Hasely Lobb will be climbing the equivalent height of Everest over the month of November, taking it a step at a time ...

To climb the equivalent height of Mt Everest, you'd need to do Paritutu 90 times.

Manawatu

Circus will pay for muddy mess video

Manawatu Standard reporter Janine Rankin in the muddy aftermath left by the Weber Bros Circus after their visit to ...

After the fun and thrills of the circus, there was an expected muddy mess to repair.

Damp house rehearing

Jillian Sinclair is still struggling to find a house suitable for her special needs children, after months of searching. ...

A pond formed under her rental property. Now compensation for that has been decimated.

'Victim of science' video

Mark Lundy, pictured at his 2015 retrial, has twice been convicted of murdering his wife Christine and their 7-year-old ...

Rules are needed to police how "novel science" is used in court, says Mark Lundy's lawyer.

Road repairs frustrate

Partial closures to the Saddle Rd mean Tararua resident Judy Edmonds has to spend an extra half an hour in the car each ...

A Tararua resident's time with her dying father has been limited by road closures.

Nelson

570km to get out of caravan video

Cindy is living with her two sons in a borrowed caravan at the Tahuna Beach  Holiday Park while trying to get a Housing ...

A Nelson mum and her two boys are moving to Timaru - just to get a Housing New Zealand home.

Triumph after crash

Louise Corbett can finally relax after her epic Ironman adventure.

Six months after being broken in a cycle crash, Nelson's Louise Corbett finishes the Hawaiian Ironman. 

Semifinal looms

Tasman lock and skipper Alex Ainley, shown here against Wellington, is feeling confident ahead of Saturday's semifinal.

Positive vibes for Tasman skipper Ainley ahead of Saturday's semifinal.

Campaigner facing cannabis charges

Medicinal cannabis campaigner and "green fairy" Rose Renton faces cannabis charges.

Cannabis campaigner charged with supplying chronic pain sufferers with products.

Marlborough

Convoys on a roll

Soldiers on Operation Exercise Southern Katipo give sentry duty while camp is set up at Omaka; from left, Private Weir ...

Exercise Southern Katipo is underway in Marlborough with soldiers and equipment being transferred on the alternate Picton to Christchurch route this week.

Revenge backfires

Screen shots posted by Lisa Maree Moynihan attacking people she claimed ripped off her son were shared more than 100 times.

A mum decided to shame an alleged dealer on Facebook when her son didn't receive his cannabis. 

Furnace plans spark action group

Alan Hall, foreground, is leading the resurrected Blenheim Residents and Ratepayers Association to fight a proposed ...

After "investing their life's savings" into their new homes, residents have banded together to fight the furnace to the bitter end.

Poachers too lazy to go around

Two hunters scaled a security gate to access a 580-hectare property near Pelorus River. (File photo)

But they weren't too lazy to climb a 2-metre gate 18 times in 15 months.

South Canterbury

First crack at musical direction

Matt Deavoll is trying his hand as musical director for upcoming South Canterbury Drama League show Variety.

Deavoll's been in the orchestra, and on the stage. Now, for the first time, he's the musical director

Loan nearly paid off

Phar Lap Charitable Trust member Noel Walker says the trust is chipping away at the loan it received to cover the ...

Trust still chipping away at loan eight years after Phar Lap statue was erected outside race track.

Shearing shed gutted

Bruce Rogers surveys the damage to his shearing shed after the fire on Monday night.

Fire crews forced to cut holes in wool shed to extinguish "well involved" fire near Geraldine.

'Ripped from my life'

Oamaru pensioner William Arthur Lee arrives at Timaru District Court on Monday morning with defence counsel Michael de Buyzer

Oamaru pensioner sentenced after killing a man he drove into on a pavement.

Otago

Telford transitions to Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre

Happier days for Telford, with its long-awaited transfer to the new tertiary provider, Taratahi Agricultural Training ...

New Telford era to provide "one hell of a lot of good farmers for the industry".

Newbee MP plays hurry up and wait during coalition talks

National party Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker.

It's hurry up and wait for new MP Hamish Walker during coalition talks.

Life sentence for brutal murder video

Murderer Stephen Findlay appears in the High Court at Dunedin for sentencing.

Stephen Findlay used to drink and argue with his neighbour. Then one night he bashed her to death before shooting himself.

Neighbours' row turned to murder

Stephen Findlay in his younger days

When Miranda Clare heard about a murder in a small Otago town, she knew her father would be involved.

Southland

Bravery awards for Nightcaps fire

Nightcaps men Conrad Waihape, left, and Phil Manson were presented with Bravery awards at a Southland District Council ...

"It was pretty dark and bloody hard to see..."

Let's talk, Southland: Kirwan

Sir John Kirwan visited Northern Southland College, Lumsden, on Tuesday afternoon.

Mental health speeches "powerful, timely, relevant".

Aparima College to get new principal, board of trustees

Aparima College commissioner Nicola Hornsey.

Embattled Aparima College in Riverton is set to have elections to form a board of trustees after its new principal is recruited.

Shears leader quietly determined

Winton shearer Troy Pyper in the Open heats at the 50th Waimate Shears on Saturday.

Up-and-coming Southland shearer not taking anything for granted.

Ad Feedback