Final major cordon lifted, most evacuees now home after Christchurch's Port Hills fire video

STACY SQUIRES/Stuff.co.nz

Several Port Hills cordons remain in place more than a week after flames erupted.

Barriers have been removed from two popular Port Hills recreation areas following last week's fires in Christchurch.

Rapaki Track and tracks in Mt Vernon Farm Park reopened on Wednesday afternoon, but access to Huntsbury Spur Track and Bowenvale Valley remained closed due to continuing helicopter work in the area. 

The last major cordon for residents was lifted at 9am on Wednesday, allowing residents from 51 homes above 329 Worsleys Rd to return home.

Kennedys Bush Rd residents Robin and Shirleen Oakley return to their home through the residents' checkpoint with their ...
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Kennedys Bush Rd residents Robin and Shirleen Oakley return to their home through the residents' checkpoint with their cat Mischief and dog Dolly.

Over 40 residents came through the cordon in the first two hours. For some, it was the first time they had seen their properties since being evacuated.

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"A few were pretty anxious to get home, and some others whose houses had burnt were upset, but otherwise everyone was just pleased to be getting home," Sergeant Steve Sibley said. 

Police check residents' photo IDs at the cordon on Hoon Hay Valley Rd.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Police check residents' photo IDs at the cordon on Hoon Hay Valley Rd.

Each resident was given a briefing about the potential for rock fall risk as well as advice about being ready to leave quickly if necessary, he said.

The Port Hill fires, which started on February 13, ripped through about 2075 hectares. About 450 houses were evacuated, nine homes destroyed and two partially damaged. A state of emergency was declared on February 15 and was extended for another week on Tuesday.

Fire Service liaison officer Bruce Irvine said crews made great progress and were able to pull back from the Worsleys area on Wednesday, but people needed to stay vigilant.

"We really need people to keep a watch on things for us. The more eyes we have out there looking the better."

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Just one house remains behind a cordon on Summit Rd. Cordons at Kennedys Bush Rd and Hoon Hay Valley Rd were lifted on Tuesday morning, allowing residents of 102 homes to return home. 

Access to Worsleys Rd was granted for non-residents with business behind the cordon, such as insurance representatives or tradespeople, until 6.30pm on Wednesday. Residents wishing for those people to enter the cordon needed to meet them at Princess Margaret Hospital car park on Cashmere Rd.

Charlie Gates

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

The same conditions applied for people who owned land behind the cordon, but lived elsewhere.

"Residents need to be aware that the fire is still active so they need to be prepared to evacuate their homes at short notice if the situation changes," a statement from Civil Defence said.

Much of Dyers Pass Rd remains cut off for safety and to allow emergency services access to carry out work. This cordon runs from just below the lower Victoria Park entrance to the intersection with Governors Bay Rd.

Fresh concerns from authorities warn of danger from fire-damaged trees, advising people to take action if necessary.

"Residents whose properties were directly affected by the fire should engage a qualified arborist to check all mature trees," the statement said.

"The [Christchurch City] Council's arborists have been checking trees on roadsides and many are being felled because of fire damage."

NO-FLY ZONE

Authorities are reminding the public a no-fly zone is in place over the fire area until midnight on Friday. This includes drones.

The fire area is bordered by Princess Margaret Hospital, Sugarloaf, Teddington and Tai Tapu.

Fire Service personnel were using a drone for thermal and infrared imaging on Tuesday evening, but a Civil Defence spokeswoman said there had been reports of other drones flying in the zone.

"Members of the public are not allowed to operate drones or other remotely piloted aircraft systems at any time in the no-fly zone, and police will be notified about any breaches of this rule," Christchurch City Council principal rural fire officer Darrin Woods said.

"Flying drones in this area illegally will be taken very seriously, as it compromises critical aerial firefighting operations and safety."

Army personnel were working inside the fire perimeter on Wednesday and advising residents about the use of drones in the area.

WATER SUPPLIES CHECKED

Water supplies in areas affected by the fire had been tested to ensure they remained at required drinking water standards.

Additional treatment had been undertaken where necessary, and testing would continue to ensure quality was maintained.

SMOKE OVER THE CITY

Firefighting efforts and the dampening of hotspots, as well as wind conditions, could billow smoke over Christchurch and the airport for the next three days.

Smoke may remain over these locations on Wednesday night and Thursday.

 - Stuff

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