Port Hills fire under control but not out yet video

Trevor Andrew of the Ashburton Rural Fire Force digs for smouldering tree roots on the Port Hills during the ...
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Trevor Andrew of the Ashburton Rural Fire Force digs for smouldering tree roots on the Port Hills during the Christchurch fires.

Firefighters are confident the Port Hills fire has been brought under control but warn the operation could last another week.

The fire that raged over 2000 hectares of the Port Hills was contained on Sunday but incident controller Richard McNamara said it would take at least a week to be extinguished.

"We have this fire under control but we have to get a full stranglehold on it," McNamara said.

Smouldering remains and tree roots looking south from Dyers Pass Rd on the Port Hills on Sunday.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Smouldering remains and tree roots looking south from Dyers Pass Rd on the Port Hills on Sunday.

"The challenges are keeping the resources on the fire ground.

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"We are getting there now and are confident we have got this fire. We just have to finish the job."

Charlie Gates

A flythrough showing the impact of the Port Hills fire in Christchurch.

"There is a lot of heat in that fire and a lot of internal burning that we can't deal with yet because we have 30km of fire perimeter to deal with."

Firefighters had spent the weekend attempting to block off the fire utilising dozer lines, retardant drops from fixed winged planes and crews on the ground to create "a fence between these communities and the fire itself".

"We have been lucky in three days with the north easterly wind coming in and cooler temperatures, but the forecast is for temperatures to start going up, cloud to burn off, and a bit of westerly [wind] later in the week.

A bent road marker from the heat Dyers Pass Rd on the Port Hills.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

A bent road marker from the heat Dyers Pass Rd on the Port Hills.

"They are all fire conditions to get the fire cranking again.

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"All it is going to take is for higher temperatures, more wind to stir it up and it's off. If we don't have those control lines in place the risk is always that it is going to break.

"We've got this now, we just have to make sure we hammer it home."

Digging out smouldering tree roots on the Port Hills during the Christchurch fires.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Digging out smouldering tree roots on the Port Hills during the Christchurch fires.

With the forecast weather conditions, McNamara believed the operation would continue for another week.

"I know that's not optimistic news for people that want to start rebuilding their lives."

McNamara will have 100-150 firefighters overall to monitor the fire for the next week, as well as "all the paraphernalia that goes with trying to handle a wildfire that at times is uncontrollable".

McNamara said around Dyers Pass Rd was particularly at risk due to the amount of heavy fuel in the area.

"There is all that forestry up there and significant burning.

"The fire is hiding in amongst that forest and if that gets up and runs again, with those heavy fuels, it can go from whoa to go in minutes."

Fire Region Manager Steve Turek described the situation as a "steady state" but crews will continue to work on the break lines, protection for the cordons – when they are in operation – and to be on hand for any flare ups as they occur.

"[The firefighters] are buoyed they can see the light at the end of the tunnel but no one is getting complacent at the moment that this fire is definitely out," Turek said.

Based on thermal imaging taken on Sunday, New Zealand Rural Fire Manager Tim Mitchell said there were still areas of the fire between 300-400 degrees celsius and continued monitoring will allow them to keep the fire contained.

"With that information we can bolster containment lines, position the crews around it so that we keep ahead of this and we do not let it escape," Mitchell said.

 - Stuff

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