The human cost of Christchurch's Port Hills fires video

JOSEPH JOHNSON/ STUFF.CO.NZ

Visiting some of the properties destroyed and the lucky ones that survived the Port Hills fires.

In the hills above an idyllic mid-Canterbury rural valley lies a pile of heat-warped metal and the charred remnants of everyday life.

It's all that remains of a house that stood at the head of Hoon Hay Valley for over 100 years. February's Port Hills fires put an end to that legacy. 

Five months later, resident Alistair Edwards stood amidst the rubble. It's a devastating sight.

Five months on from the Port Hills fires, destroyed family homes are scattered among the affected valleys.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Five months on from the Port Hills fires, destroyed family homes are scattered among the affected valleys.

The only things left are sheets of mangled corrugated metal from the roof and the odd household item – a burnt out oven, a scorched garden hose, the remnants of a car in the garage.

Everything else was incinerated.

READ MORE:
High rural firefighting costs for the Port Hills fires
Port Hills fires officially extinguished 66 days after they started
Christchurch's Port Hills fires not out yet but review on the way 
Damage assessment, rebuild plans begin at Christchurch Adventure Park after Port Hills fire 
An uneasy peace behind the cordons of Christchurch's Port Hills fires 

Alistair Edwards and Daisy Hopkins lost their home to the Port Hills fires.
BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Alistair Edwards and Daisy Hopkins lost their home to the Port Hills fires.

His is one of 11 houses destroyed or damaged in the fires, which started as two separate blazes on February 13. It burned through an area of 1645 hectares, most  privately owned. 

By February 28, the fire was 99 per cent under control. The blaze was declared officially extinguished on April 20, more than two months after the fires started.

Extinguishing the flames cost rural fire authorities almost $8 million dollars, by far the most expensive wildfire in Canterbury's recent history. 

Some items can still be recognised following the fires, but nothing of the Edward's home was salvageable.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Some items can still be recognised following the fires, but nothing of the Edward's home was salvageable.

But there was a much heavier cost to the families who lost their homes.  Dumbstruck families are struggling to come to terms with the event five months on as they rebuild their lives.

Ad Feedback

For Edwards, one moment of bad luck wiped out years of family memories. He said he experienced it twice – once, when the fire happened, then all over again when filing the insurance claim.

"It can get quite depressing, quite gut-wrenching where you have to go through every single room and every single item.

Edwards said they had exceeded their insurance limit well before they had audited the whole house.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Edwards said they had exceeded their insurance limit well before they had audited the whole house.

"You just sit down and think about all those bits and pieces.

"There is absolutely nothing you can do about it."

Despite everything, Edwards maintains gratitude for his family getting out unharmed and for the work colleagues who raised money to try and get the family back on their feet.

There is no longer anyone living at the Edwards' home who can enjoy the views from the hillside.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff

There is no longer anyone living at the Edwards' home who can enjoy the views from the hillside.

The radiology department at Christchurch hospital, where Edwards works as an MRI scanner, set up a donation fund for the family after the fire, which raised over $25,000. 

Family and friends were also quick to help out.

"As much as I didn't want help, that was very, very humbling."

Some of the items lost had been in Edward's family for generations.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Some of the items lost had been in Edward's family for generations.

Edwards and his family lost his home on Hoon Hay Valley Rd on the third day of the fires.

That's when the second blaze, from Marleys Hill, crested the slopes overlooking Edwards' house.

Edwards and his family got their final warning to leave not from the police or the fire service, but a digger driver working at the bottom of the valley.

James Frost at a police checkpoint while the fires still raged. He has since returned to his Worsleys Rd home.
BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

James Frost at a police checkpoint while the fires still raged. He has since returned to his Worsleys Rd home.

The driver's warning was well-timed – it gave Edwards and his family just enough time to fill two cars with their most precious items including hard drives with some of the family photos, his daughter's hockey gear and six pieces of artwork.

Edwards himself managed to grab some spare clothes – his other family members, not so much.

"My wife had one change of clothes, my daughter had one change of clothes."

The devastating February fires destroyed homes and a vast area of Port Hills' vegetation.
PETER HIGGINS

The devastating February fires destroyed homes and a vast area of Port Hills' vegetation.

Despite the few possessions they salvaged, Edwards was grateful.

"We were lucky. I know some people didn't get anything out," he said.

Edwards said they lost everything else. Priceless artefacts like a Maori carving the family had owned for generations were lost.

Rural fire authority costs for putting out the fires was almost $8 million.
BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Rural fire authority costs for putting out the fires was almost $8 million.

"It was given to my family by local iwi up in Northland way back when. That can never be replaced."

The fire was so strong it burned the heavy vegetation around the house down to the very roots. It has been five months and much of the area in the valley around the house is still singed black, with grass starting to poke through in scattered locations.

Edwards said they exceeded their total insurance claim well before the family had audited the entire house.

Fires burn in the Port Hills above Christchurch, looking westward from Sign of the Takahe.
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN/STUFF

Fires burn in the Port Hills above Christchurch, looking westward from Sign of the Takahe.

"When people think of insurance they think 'I've broken a window, I've got to replace it. We don't think of a total loss.

"We've had a really good run with the insurance company."

Edwards and his family have since taken up residence in a little cottage at the bottom of the valley and are now looking for a new place to live.

Aerial firefighting costs for the fires totaled $2.1 million.
GARY WILSON/SUPPLIED

Aerial firefighting costs for the fires totaled $2.1 million.

Not everyone has had such a smooth run with insurance. 

James Frost said dealing with insurance after the fire was "the worst experience of my life", and had caused a lot of trauma.

"I've been greatly affected, and the insurance process certainly had an impact on my mental health."

The fire caused extensive smoke damage to possessions throughout the house. About half were able to be cleaned, but the rest were not salvageable. 

He felt he could have used more support and easier access to services like counselling through the disaster relief process.

"You don't realise it until well after, it actually hits you then."

Frost and his partner were living in a rental on Worsleys Rd when the fires swept to the edge of the house, leaving it standing but smoke damaged and unlivable.

They have been back in the Worsleys Rd house for just over a month, after spending six weeks in a caravan.

"We love living here so it was lovely to be back in. It's still a weird place to be though, because you're looking at burnt trees, so it has a totally different feel to it."

He said a bonus from the experience was getting closer to neighbours and having more of a sense of community. 

It's the second time Frost has had to start again, after his Merivale unit collapsed in the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

Vilma Flanagan and her family lost their home in Early Valley Rd.

She said her family had still not settled with the insurance company four months later and were biding their time in Queensland.

'We've just jumped on a plane and come out here."

She said she was still shocked at the lack of warning from the authorities despite an indication that the wind was changing.

"The first fire should never have got down to our place. 

"They kept telling us 'everything was fine, everything was fine, we were out of danger.'

"We could have gone in and got our stuff. In three or four hours it came down and took out everything.

"We had to drive around the Akaroa highway at five in the morning with binoculars to see that our house had been burnt down."

Meanwhile Doug and Vikki Pflaum, who also lost their home on Worsleys Rd, had settled with their insurance company and were already planning to rebuild.

Investigators have not worked out how either fire started.

The first began in some grass next to Early Valley Rd, and was pushed up the valley by a nor'wester. Just hours later, a second began 3km to the east, on Marleys Hill, near the sign of the Kiwi. 

It badly damaged the 8-month old Christchurch Adventure Park, which has remained closed since. Decades of conservation work in the Ohinetahi Reserve was consumed by the firestorm. 

Helicopter pilot Steve Askin lost his life when his chopper crashed while he battled the flames. 

Despite the best efforts of those fighting the fires, the two blazes had joined into one huge fire by Wednesday evening. 

Rural Fire services spent more than $7.9 million fighting the fires, including $2.1m on aircraft expenses and $1.8m for staff costs. 

Over $4.5m of that cost went to the Department of Conservation, which contributed over 11,000 staff hours from more than 130 fully-trained rural fire fighters. 

The fires cost insurers $18.3 million dollars – $10.3m from 138 domestic claims, $7.3m from 38 commercial claims, and about $729,000 from 21 other claims. 

Insurance Council of New Zealand chief executive Tim Grafton said people should "make sure they've allowed enough to rebuild in the case of total loss, and that should take into account increased building costs when demand is high".

"We know many homeowners set their sum insured at the value given to them by their insurer or the RV rather than the costs to rebuild from scratch. We can't stress enough this is your home and you know it best, so spend the time now before it is too late."

Rural wildfire investigator Graeme Still is investigating the cause of the fires. He said he expected to be finished his report "within the next couple of weeks", when it would be given to the fire authorities.

 

The police are also investigating, but their work is in limbo while the cause is determined. 

Detective inspector Greg Murton, who is leading the police investigation, said police had done "as much as we can" until they had a steer on causation. 

 - Stuff

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Auckland

Blistering pace

Waitākere Cricket Club's Ben Lister has been called up to Auckland's senior squad for this season.

Young west Auckland bowler Ben Lister called up to Auckland Aces.

Million dollar wind fall

The winning ticket in Wednesday night's $1 million draw was sold at Countdown Browns Bay on Auckland's North Shore.

Mid-week celebrations for a lucky Aucklander after Lotto win.

Children love the taniwha

Mahi Pai at Manukau Institute of Technology.

More than 1500 South Auckland youngsters were treated to the very popular Mahi Pai taniwha performance over Māori Language Week.

Wide Awake at Hawkins Theatre

Hawkins Theatre is staging the play Wide Awake.

An award winning children's play is hitting the stage in Papakura.

Wellington

Eli gains loyal, helpful friend video

Six-year-old Eli Burkhalter with  his new assistance dog Taffy.

Taffy the golden labrador is a welcome companion for six-year-old Waikanae boy.

Kids sick on synthetics

Synthetic drugs, often mixed with dried leaves resembling cannabis, have claimed at least 20 lives in New Zealand this ...

Youngest was just 5 as three Porirua kids taken to hospital severely ill.

SH1 blockage cleared

NZTA advised of delays on around the Paremata roundabout and Mana on State Highway 1 after a three-car crash at Plimmerton.

Minor delays continue after a two-car crash near Plimmerton.

Capital train strike likely

Capital commuters are likely to face disruptions as rail workers prepare to strike.

Disruptions ahead for Wellington rail commuters as employment dispute boils over.

Canterbury

'Bound together by cancer' video

Christchurch father of two  Kevin "Chalky" Carr received the news that his pancreatic cancer was back  and his prognosis ...

This time last week, cancer patient Chalky Carr had never met Isla Lunn. Now he's raising $100,000 for the 7-year-old.

Service 'horrific' video

Michelle Bishop is upset at the service received by funeral home Poppy Funerals following the death of her daughter ...

Woman calls for funeral industry to be regulated after ongoing problems following her daughter's death.

Who won the final debate? video

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Labour party leader Jacinda Ardern speaks during the TVNZ Vote 2017 2nd Leaders ...

Jacinda Ardern looked and sounded like a woman in a fight for her political life. And she is.

Bike theft at bottle-point

Two friends were robbed of their bikes at bottle-point near Papanui High School.

The two robbers fled on bikes stolen from men in Northcote, Christchurch.

Waikato

Seven daring ducklings rescued 

The rescue operation saw the safe retrieval of seven ducklings from a Whitianga drain.

It took half an hour to rescue the seven ducklings from the depths of the drain.

Cocaine, cash found

The armed offenders squad helped execute a search warrant in Te Aroha.

Seven searches in Te Aroha were undertaken netting cocaine, cash and five arrests in a pre-dawn raid.

Historic pub killing set for trial

Chris Bush was shot and killed in October 1987.

Two men to stand trial next year over the murder of pub manager Chris Bush 30 years ago.

Kiwis want water levy

Farmers protested perceived attacks from politicians in Morrinsville on Monday, September 18. A new survey shows the ...

The majority of Kiwis want to see farmers pay for water use, a new survey shows.

Taranaki

Ngā Manu Kōrero begins

Dr Ruakere Hond addressed the manuhiri (visitors).

Students from 52 schools across Aotearoa have arrived in New Plymouth for a speech competition.

Principal search

Lynda Stuart, president of the NZEI, said there are ore principal vacancies than usual.

Four schools are looking for principals, and another four are looking for deputies and assistants.

The 'hero' in the beauty aisle

Shane White's training kicked into action as soon as he got to the man who collapsed in the beauty aisle.

Ian Foreman collapsed in a New Plymouth supermarket only for the produce manager to save his life.

Truck rolls, spills load of urea

A truck rolled on Opunake Rd, spilling urea, and blocking the area to traffic.

Truck and trailer unit rolls and spills load.

Manawatu

The final debate video

From left, Greens candidate Thomas Nash, NZ First MP Darroch Ball, National candidate Adrienne Pearce, Money Free Party ...

Palmerston North candidates battle over mental health and Manawatū Gorge at final debate.

MP flees farmers

Labour candidate for Palmerston North Iain Lees-Galloway left a farmer meeting about irrigation tax early.

Labour MP claims he was "physically pushed" and his van rammed.

Suspected armed robbery at BP

The BP service station in Main St, Palmerston North, has had another suspected aggravated robbery.

Two people are believed to have carried weapons into a BP and robbed it in Palmerston North.

Debate strikes useful balance

The Manawatu Standard candidates debate was broadcast live on Facebook.

OPINION: Election campaign meeting mixes information with humour and differences.

Nelson

'What's a candidate?' video

Birchwood School students from left Jacob 8, Talei 9, Mia 8, talk to Stuff about their thoughts on the election and politics.

They can't legally vote until 2029, but they still have strong views on the election.

Earthquake jolts NZ

The quake was centred 30 kilometres northeast of Seddon.

Central New Zealand jolted by a short and sharp earthquake.

Power back on

A power outage on Wednesday afternoon has affected residents in Richmond, Brightwater, Wakefield and Mapua.

Power has been restored to 12,000 homes and businesses after a Transpower fault. 

Kea shooter sentenced

A man's been sentenced to 200 hours community work for killing a kea.

A man who shot at kea who were damaging his property has been sentenced to community work.

Marlborough

Dinner's in the bag

Sous chef Emily Hulburt, 5, helps out in the kitchen preparing a 'My Food Bag' recipe.

By her own admission, reporter Paula Hulburt is a whizz with a microwave. As the first delivery of My Food Bags arrive in Blenheim, she took one for a test drive.

Earthquake jolts NZ

The quake was centred 30 kilometres northeast of Seddon.

Central New Zealand jolted by a short and sharp earthquake.

Cafe confrontation

Prime Minister Bill English stopped in at BV Gourmet in Blenheim on the campaign trail on Tuesday. (File photo)

PM's coffee break gatecrashed as Labour candidate accuses National supporters of ripping down billboards.

Weather closes newly-fixed rail line

The Main North Line between Picton and Christchurch has been closed due to bad weather, just days after its post-quake ...

Just a single train managed to traverse the newly-repaired rail line from Christchurch to Picton before bad weather closed it again.

South Canterbury

Men's health focus of campaign

Jonty Penney from Timaru is participating in the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride to raise funds for men,s health.

Two Timaru men are taking the health message on the road.

Flow-on concerns

David Hurst, from A J Engineering in Washdyke, is concerned about the impact of the water levy.

S Canty businesses concerned about impact of Labour's water levy, spokesman says concerns unjustified.

New Mackenzie CEO

New Mackenzie council chief executive Suzette van
Aswegen.

A current staff member will take on the top job at the Mackenzie District Council.

'He's a hero,' neighbour says

The remains of the Waipopo property on Wednesday afternoon.

Waipopo man who rescued wife from fire would have used 'every bit of strength'.

Otago

Search for missing man

Missing Dunedin man Stephen Lowe.

More than 30 ground searchers, three search dogs and an aerial search have failed to find any further sign of missing Dunedin man Stephen Lowe

Serial sea lion killer at large video

A sea lion found shot on a Catlins beach in Southland in April.

A serial killer may be targeting New Zealand sea lions, with a $5000 reward on offer in exchange for the culprit.

Fired while on sick leave

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ordered Oamaru-based P&W Painters (PWP) to compensate former employee Paul ...

Company that unfairly fired brush hand while on sick leave also had to compensate an ex-staffer who was called a "baby killer".

Kidnapping duo plead guilty

Nick Miles, 24, and Gary Michael Wilson, 46, have admitted kidnapping a man and dumping him on the outskirts of Dunedin.

Two men kidnapped and dumped another man on the outskirts on Dunedin.

Southland

Youth organisations make appeal

Sam Balloch was one of dozens of volunteers seeking signatures for a petition to keep Number 10 One Stop Shop and ...

Number 10 Youth One Stop Shop and the Invercargill Secondary Schools Network are gathering support for their petition to remain at their current location.

Pound in clear

An animal group and the Invercargill City Council are at odds about how a dog was treated. (File photo)

Ministry for Primary Industries clears the Invercargill City Council over captive bolt use.

Forestry gets favour: ES

Nicol Horrell, chairman of Environment Southland.

''Forestry operators will be able to operate at lower environmental standards than other resource users in Southland."

Quake off Southland coast

A magnitude 5.8 quake struck near Southland.

A 5.8 earthquake hit off the coast of Southland - but its shaking was unnoticeable, GeoNet says.

Ad Feedback