High rural firefighting costs for the Port Hills fires

Ownz Productions

Fires burn along ridges of the Port Hills in Christchurch.

The staggering cost of fighting February's destructive Port Hills fires is becoming clearer, with the rural firefighting service revealing its bill totals $7.9 million.

This amount, released on Thursday, included $2.1m for aircraft and $1.8m for rural fire staff. It is split between the Selwyn District Council (SDC) and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

It does not include costs incurred by the New Zealand Fire Service (now Fire and Emergency New Zealand) or Civil Defence expenses from SDC or the Christchurch City Council (CCC). 

A fire burns on the Port Hills, near Kennedys Bush, south of Christchurch.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

A fire burns on the Port Hills, near Kennedys Bush, south of Christchurch.

DOC contributed more than $4.5m to the fight against the devastating fires, which covered 1645 hectares and destroyed 11 homes. The organisation's 130 fully-trained rural fire fighters worked more than 11,000 hours during the blazes.

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Two separate fires began on February 13 and raged uncontrolled in the hills before joining to form one huge blaze, which included much of the then eight-week-old Christchurch Adventure Park

The rural fire costs for battling the Port Hills fires was $7.9 million.
BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

The rural fire costs for battling the Port Hills fires was $7.9 million.

Hundreds of firefighters battled the inferno from the ground and air. By February 28, the fire was 99 per cent under control.

It was declared extinguished on April 20 – more than two months after the fires began. 

Douglas Marshall, who acted as Selwyn principal rural fire officer, said he thought it was "probably the biggest rural fire cost that would have ever been lodged".

Helicopters costs made up $2.1 million of the overall firefighting expense.
GARY WILSON/SUPPLIED

Helicopters costs made up $2.1 million of the overall firefighting expense.

"The biggest fire Selwyn District Council would have had [before this], it would have been about $250,000 from memory."

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He said though the cost was high, people should not forget the "significant cost" affected property owners had also paid. 

"It's clearly an extraordinary event in Christchurch and Selwyn life, and like any extraordinary event, it does have an extraordinary cost."

Christchurch City Council

A flyover of the fire area shows the extent of damage following the Port Hills fire.

While the majority of SDC's costs would be met by insurance with the Rural Fire Fighting Fund, they have to pay an excess of $195,000. There are also non-claimable costs of about $175,000. DOC's costs will come from the Government conservation budget.

Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton said the cost reflected the significant scale of the firefighting operation. 

Fire and Emergency New Zealand do not have their cost figures available. A spokeswoman said part of their cost would have consisted of the normal operating costs, as on-duty firefighters and volunteers were a large part of the response. 

Selwyn principal rural fire officer Douglas Marshall says it was "probably the biggest rural fire cost that would have ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Selwyn principal rural fire officer Douglas Marshall says it was "probably the biggest rural fire cost that would have ever been lodged".

CCC general manager customer and community Mary Richardson said the council incurred Civil Defence costs of $69,600, and estimated staff time costs at about $500,000. 

"A lot of staff time will not be a direct cost to the ratepayer, as staff did a lot of this work over and above their normal work hours."

This work included running the Emergency Operations Centre, co-ordinating evacuations, assisting with resident access to cordoned areas and communicating with affected residents.

A firefighter dampens down areas affected by the Port Hills fires.
CHRISTCHURCH CITY COUNCIL/SUPPLIED

A firefighter dampens down areas affected by the Port Hills fires.

The blazes would cost insurers $18.3m, $10.3m of which was for residential claims. 

What started the flames was to be confirmed by rural wildfire investigator Graeme Still. 

He said he expected to be finished his report "within the next couple of weeks". It would then be given to the fire authorities.

The adventure park suffered significant damage in the Port Hills fires in February.
MICHAEL HAYWARD/STUFF

The adventure park suffered significant damage in the Port Hills fires in February.

He said there were "a few bits and pieces" being worked through because "you can't just write up a report on theory".

"It's a hell of a job to determine all these things."

Still said he could not comment on what they had found while the report was written.

The police were investigating, but could not proceed until the cause was determined. 

Police investigation lead Detective Inspector Greg Murton said officers had done "as much as we can" on their probe until until they had a steer on the cause of the blaze. 

"We're still awaiting the fire expert reports before we can finalise our inquiries."

He said the investigation was "quite a complex matter" because the fire started in two places. 

An operational review on how fire authorities responded to the emergency was under way, with results expected in October. 

RURAL FIREFIGHTING COSTS BREAKDOWN

Aircraft - $2,166,098
Rural Fire Authority personnel - $1,794,081
Rural Fire Authority equipment and vehicles - $795,573
Contracted firefighting personnel - $568,224
Contracted firefighting equipment - $80,882
Consumables, e.g cordons, investigation - $1,000,059
Fire retardant - $913,313
Heavy machinery - $629,086
Total - $7,947,317

 - Stuff

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