Homes destroyed, hundreds evacuated as Christchurch Port Hills fires rage out of control
At least eight homes have been destroyed in out-of-control fires threatening Christchurch.
At least three houses are known to have fallen victim to the blaze in the Worsley Spur area, on top of three destroyed Hoon Hay Valley Rd and one on Old Tai Tapu Rd on Wednesday, along with one on Early Valley Rd overnight Monday.
An earlier police estimate that as many as 40 homes had "been lost" to the flames has been drastically revised.
More homes in Christchurch's Port Hills were being evacuated from 5am on Thursday as the massive wildfires continued to rage. Civil Defence said the two fires that started on Monday had merged into one and covered about 1850 hectares.
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Civil Defence said police were evacuating residents downhill of the Sign of the Takahe on Dyers Pass Rd as far down as, and including, Kiteroa Place and Pentre Tce.
Affected residents would be contacted directly by police, who were knocking on doors.
Those who felt unsafe were advised to self-evacuate.
Police were concerned about traffic and people in the area and asked all non-residents to stay away to keep the roads clear for emergency services.
Cordons were set up along Cashmere Rd after midnight, restricting access to most streets running off it, such as Worsleys Rd and Penruddock Rise.
The blaze, which was visible from Bengal Dr early on Thursday morning, was continuing to take hold of land surrounding the new Christchurch Adventure Park.
Plumes of fire continued to rise as the blaze romped through vegetation in the area behind Cashmere.
Directly across from the Adventure Park, the fire jumped Dyers Pass Rd and was taking hold of Victoria Park.
In a statement, Civil Defence said there were still several "very active" fires in the Port Hills, but not as many as there were before 12am on Thursday.
"A large number of fire crews have been on the ground working hard to protect properties overnight, and the drop in fire activity can also be attributed to a decrease in temperature and a rise in humidity."
Helicopters were expected to fly at first light on Thursday.
In total, more than 400 households had been evacuated around Victoria Park and Dyers Pass Rd, Worsleys Rd, Westmorland and Kennedys Bush.
Most evacuees had moved on from, or bypassed, the Te Hapua Halswell Centre, where a welfare centre was set up.
Civil Defence centre manager Henry Jaiswal said six people stayed at the centre overnight.
"We had more people before, but they've left. They just came for a cup of tea and a chat," he said.
The evacuees at the centre were a mix of voluntary evacuees and people evacuated by the authorities.
"We've got another shift at 7am-3pm. After that we'll assess . . . if we don't have hardly any people coming in then we'll shut at 3pm," Jaiswal said. He did not expect more evacuees to show up overnight.
Another centre had been set up at Nga Hau e Wha Marae, but no one had arrived by 1.30am Thursday. Those wanting to access the centre were advised to drive around the back of the marae, off Pages Rd.
'BIG TREES AND VEGETATION'
Selwyn District Council principal rural fire officer Douglas Marshall said it was hard to fight the blaze because there were "a lot of big trees and vegetation in that part of the city".
Authorities urged people to follow all requests to evacuate.
Council public information manager Stephen Hill said the fire had "gone across Dyers Pass Rd and is in Victoria Park".
Earlier, one front of the Port Hills fires had crossed over into Victoria Park and residents living between there and the Sign of the Takahe were told to evacuate immediately.
Four homes were destroyed as the massive fire blazed through the Christchurch hill suburbs of Westmorland and Kennedys Bush.
Three houses were destroyed on Hoon Hay Valley Rd on Wednesday afternoon. The Early Valley Rd fire area was also extending and claimed another home on Old Tai Tapu Rd.
Firefighting helicopters were stood down for the night and those living in the Port Hills were warned to be prepared to evacuate at short notice.
Some of the evacuations on Wednesday included Kennedys Bush Rd and its intersecting streets from Halswell Quarry up towards the end of Kennedys Bush Rd, Dyers Pass Rd south of Takahe Drive, Pentre Tce and Longhurst Tce and streets to the south.
They also caused a 30-minute power outage to 89,000 Christchurch households. Widespread power outages were reported about 2pm after smoke or flames from the fires caused the Transpower 220 kV line to trip.
FIRES WERE 'NEVER UNDER CONTROL'
NZ Fire Service assistant area commander Greg Crawford said the situation was "pretty volatile" and the fires had "never really been under control".
Marshall said it was unsafe to fight at night so the fires could "get away".
"We had that in Governors Bay [overnight Tuesday]."
Asked on Wednesday afternoon what the plan was for after nightfall, Marshall said: "I don't know right now is the honest answer."
The fire "spread extensively" down Worsley Spur late Wednesday, extensively burning vegetation on the Christchurch Adventure Park as it approached the residential area Westmorland, which has been evacuated.
Up to 400 people were evacuated from homes in Worsley Rd, Cracroft, the bottom of Hoon Hay Valley Rd and the Westmorland area.
The cordon at Cashmere Rd into Westmorland was later removed and residents were allowed to return home.
Homes were evacuated on Dyers Pass Rd, Cashmere, above the Sign of the Takahe, Kennedy's Bush Rd, Halswell, and Early Valley Rd, where the fires first began.
Residents who were evacuated were able to seek help at two city welfare centres at Te Hapua Halswell Centre and Nga Hau e Wha Marae.
A State of Emergency was declared in Christchurch and Selwyn.
Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee announced late on Wednesday that the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) could provide logistics personnel and equipment from Burnham Military Camp.
"Engineering equipment, water tankers and manpower options that will support cordons, firebreaks, and firefighters will also be deployed.
"Since yesterday, six NZDF firefighters and two appliances have been assisting in Early Valley Rd, near Kennedys Bush southwest of the city," Brownlee said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Westmorland residents gathered at the corner of Penruddock Rise and Cashmere Rd at a police cordon where officers took the names of those they are letting collect pets and other family members.
Phil and his two children, aged 7 and 5, sought shade under a tree next to Francis Reserve.
"I've just organised someone to get my dog," he said
His two children, still in school uniform, sat alongside.
His son, 7, described the situation as "bad".
Lisa Briggs said her home at the top of Kennedy's Bush Rd was under the path of constant helicopters.
"I'm scared because if it gets any closer my house could burn down," Briggs said.
"The bags are packed, the dog is already gone so it's just me and the cat.
"The kids are going to my sister's place at the bottom of the hill."
Briggs' husband and a neighbour had dug a small fire break behind the house and had the sprinklers going since Tuesday.
"It seems like Christchurch can't catch a break, first the earthquakes and now fires."
EXTRA POLICE PATROLS
Christchurch police had extra patrols out overnight Wednesday to help those in areas affected by the fires and check on those affected by power outages.
They urged residents to check on neighbours as many would be feeling anxious.
About 50 police and 36 NZDF personnel were working on the fire response overnight to carry out evacuations, joint patrols and reassure people in the areas impacted by the fires.
DAMAGE TO ADVENTURE PARK
Christchurch Adventure Park spokeswoman Anne Newman said the fire was getting close to the park's chairlift base station.
The fire entered the valley where the park was situated, but the village, at the bottom of the valley, was untouched.
Vegetation surrounding the some mountain bike tracks was "gone", Newman said.
"But, you know, trees can grow again," she said.
She did not know whether the chairlift pylons or the station at the top of the lift were damaged.
The $20 million park opened on December 17 last year after an eight-month build process. Staff had earlier been evacuated from the park.
COULD BURN FOR 72 HOURS
Selwyn District Council spokesman Stephen Hill says the fires could continue for another 48 to 72 hours.
The largest fire started on Early Valley Rd about 6pm on Monday while a smaller one at Marleys Hill, near Sign of the Kiwi, started in a car park about 7pm on Monday.
Crews with diggers and bulldozers were working since 6am to create new fire breaks to protect properties in the Holmes Rd area, including one belonging to Graeme and Leah Causer.
Graeme Causer said he was "hopeful" a fresh fire break bulldozed by contractors on his hillside would stop the fire spreading further.
"The biggest wait will be over the next two weeks to two months, I mean, until we get a big rain it'll keep smouldering for at least two months."
Contractors were widening a section of the fire break to keep the flames back from trees behind their house.
"I don't really care about the house, we've been in there three times to pick things up, you know, photos and jewellery from the safe," Causer said.